Geography

The Comoros archipelago consists of four main islands aligned along a northwest-southeast axis at the north end of the Mozambique Channel, between Mozambique and the island of Madagascar. Still widely known by their French names, the islands officially have been called by their Swahili names by the Comorian government. They are Grande Comore (Njazidja), Mohéli (Mwali), Anjouan (Nzwani), and Mayotte (Mahoré). The islands’ distance from each other—Grande Comore is some 200 kilometers from Mayotte, forty kilometers from Mohéli, and eighty kilometers from Grande Comore—along with a lack of good harbor facilities, make transportation and communication difficult. The islands have a total land area of 2,236 square kilometers (including Mayotte), and claim territorial waters of 320 square kilometers. Mount Karthala (2316 m) on Grande Comore is an active volcano. From April 17 to 19, 2005, the volcano began spewing ash and gas, forcing as many as 10,000 people to flee.

Geographic coordinates: 12°10′S 44°15′E

Grande Comore

Grande Comore is the largest island, sixty-seven kilometers long and twenty-seven kilometers wide, with a total area of 1,146 square kilometers. The most recently formed of the four islands in the archipelago, it is also of volcanic origin. Two volcanoes form the island’s most prominent topographic features: La Grille in the north, with an elevation of 1,000 meters, is extinct and largely eroded; Kartala in the south, rising to a height of 2,361 meters, last erupted in 1977. A plateau averaging 600 to 700 meters high connects the two mountains. Because Grande Comore is geologically a relatively new island, its soil is thin and rocky and cannot hold water. As a result, water from the island’s heavy rainfall must be stored in catchment tanks. There are no coral reefs along the coast, and the island lacks a good harbor for ships. One of the largest remnants of the Comoros’ once-extensive rain forests is on the slopes of Kartala. The national capital has been at Moroni since 1962.

Anjouan

Anjouan, triangular shaped and forty kilometers from apex to base, has an area of 424 square kilometers. Three mountain chains—Sima, Nioumakele, and Jimilime—emanate from a central peak, Mtingui (1,575 m), giving the island its distinctive shape. Older than Grande Comore, Anjouan has deeper soil cover, but overcultivation has caused serious erosion. A coral reef lies close to shore; the island’s capital of Mutsamudu is also its main port.

Mohéli

Mohéli is thirty kilometers long and twelve kilometers wide, with an area of 290 square kilometers. It is the smallest of the four islands and has a central mountain chain reaching 860 meters at its highest. Like Grande Comore, it retains stands of rain forest. Mohéli’s capital is Fomboni.

Mayotte

Mayotte, geologically the oldest of the four islands, is thirty-nine kilometers long and twenty-two kilometers wide, totaling 375 square kilometers, and its highest points are between 500 and 600 meters above sea level. Because of greater weathering of the volcanic rock, the soil is relatively rich in some areas. A well-developed coral reef that encircles much of the island ensures protection for ships and a habitat for fish. Dzaoudzi, capital of the Comoros until 1962 and now Mayotte’s administrative center, is situated on a rocky outcropping off the east shore of the main island. Dzaoudzi is linked by a causeway to le Pamanzi, which at ten kilometers in area is the largest of several islets adjacent to Mayotte. Islets are also scattered in the coastal waters of Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Mohéli.

Area: 2,235 km2

Coastline: 340 km

Climate: tropical marine; rainy season (November to May)

Terrain: volcanic islands, interiors vary from steep mountains to low hills

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: Karthala 2,360 m

Natural resources: fish

Land use:
arable land: 47.29%
permanent crops: 29.55%
other: 23.16% (2012 est.)

Irrigated land:
1.3 km2 (2003)

Total renewable water resources: 1.2 km3 (2011)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):

total: 0.01 km3/yr (48%/5%/47%)
per capita: 16.86 m3/yr (1999)

Natural hazards: cyclones possible during rainy season (December to April); volcanic activity on Grand Comore

Environmental – current issues: soil degradation and erosion results from crop cultivation on slopes without proper terracing; deforestation