Deserts

Deserts  and Pastoralism

Deserts  

Deserts occupy a landmass equivalent to 11 million sq km, 45 times the size of the UK. 30 countries have deserts biomes; these are located mainly between 15 and 35 degrees latitude, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Rainfall in these areas is 10 inches, or less, per year. Fringing the deserts are arid  dryland environments that are exploited by nomadic pastoral societies. Pastoralists live in drought-prone lands and pastoralism is the only way to make a living from the land. This is a subsistence strategy and a way of life affecting around 200 million people. Moving herds from one place to another is a sustainable and ecological way of managing these fragile marginal areas and allows the wild grasses and shrubs to re-grow; in exchange the animals provide the families with milk, meat, wool and hides. Nomads need to be able to rely on availability of water and vegetation when they pass through an area in the future and so ecological sustainability becomes a necessity for transhumance.

Pastoralism

Pastoralism is one of the oldest forms of organised human society. It might come as a surprise to learn that agricultural society appeared less than 10,000 years ago. However, the pastoralist’s way of life is increasingly under threat and not only because of encroaching desertification and the effects of a voracious development. Today’s political, legal, social and economic policies and laws are not taking into consideration the needs of nomadic populations.

As pastoralist societies are mobile and living in very remote areas, it is difficult to precisely know how many people worldwide make up this group. It is believed that 150-200 million people worldwide are nomadic Pastoralists. The largest group of pastoralists lives in Iran and is estimated to consist of over 1 million individuals made up of over 500 tribes and independent clans. More at: UNDP / IUCN World initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism

In the Past

In the past arid and desert zones were considered marginal areas of little or no importance. The great distances required survival skills that were mainly known to local indigenous peoples who moved through the desert landscapes with their caravans. Colonial powers were little interested in what seemed an empty and arid landscape. However, after the World Wars the discovery of natural resources and the advent of mechanised mobility these vast areas of land are being looked at from a different angle.

Strategic and political requirements by the invading powers of the 19th century imposed artificial regional boundaries and national borders, without respecting the people who lived in those regions for centuries and  dividing families and tribes. This is still creating tensions to this day and no solution has been proposed to resolve these conflicts in a way that takes into account the needs of a decentralised democracy suitable to nomadic populations. These are no easy issues and dialogue between all parties is crucial.

Deserts Today

Deserts occupy a landmass equivalent to 11 million sq km, 45 times the size of the UK. 30 countries have deserts biomes; these are located mainly between 15 and 35 degrees latitude, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Rainfall in these areas is 10 inches, or less, per year.

Africa – 3 deserts: The biggest desert is the one which is called the Sahara, 3,5 million sq/m, and part of 12 African Countries followed by the Kalahari, 220,000 sq/m, and part of 3 countries and the Namib, 13,000 sq/m, and part of 3 countries.

Middle East and Asia – 7 deserts: The Arabian Desert with 1 million sq/m and part of 6 countries; the Iranian Desert with 100,000 sq/m; the Kyzyl-Kum Desert with 115,000 sq/m; the Kara-Kum Desert with 135,000sq/m; the Thar Desert with 175,000 sq/m, the Taklamakam Desert with 105,000 sq/m and the Gobi Desert with 500,000 sq/m.

Australia – 5 deserts, the Great Victoria, the Great Sandy, Gibson, Simpson and Sturt Stony cpmprising 576,000 sq/m.

South America – 2 deserts: Atacama with 54,000 sq/m and Patagonia 260,000 sq/m.

North America – 5 deserts: Chihuahuan, Great Basin, Sonoran, Mojawe and Colorado Plateau with 990,930 sq/m

Arctic: 5,4 million sq/m.

Antarctic: 5,5 million sq/m.

The hottest place on Earth is in the Sahara with a recorded temperature of 58ºC. Desert biomes are to be found in Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, Yemen, China, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

(Great Britain with its 152,000 sq/m has been used for comparison’s sake.)

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