CASE STUDIES

Deserts – The Arizona and Sahara Deserts

Deserts – The Arizona and Sahara Deserts

In wealthy countries, hot deserts can provide opportunities for economic development, such as mineral extraction and tourism. To look at a desert, you might imagine that nothing could live there, but in reality a huge variety of animals and plants make the desert their home. Similarly, although there doesn’t appear to be anything useful in a desert, these areas are rich in natural resources which can be exploited commercially. The ways in which a desert region is used depends very much on where it is located.

The Arizona desert in the Southern United States seems like an unforgiving place where nothing could survive – let alone people. Yet the area is teeming with animals such as desert foxes, mountain lions and wild horses; and many people choose to move here to take advantage of the climate.

Arizona has a huge number of lakes, golf courses and urban communities, and older people see it as an attractive place to retire. Natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, as well as licensed hunting, fishing and gambling at the region’s many casinos, generate revenue from tourism. Desert areas are often rich in minerals. The Arizona desert has been mined for copper since the 19th century and gold is also found here. However not everyone is in favour of mining, particularly open-cast mining, because they believe it spoils the area. Indigenous people (Native Americans) also believe the land is sacred and must be preserved. This can lead to conflict with mining companies.

The Sahara in Northern Africa is located in a much poorer region. Unlike Arizona, the vast nine million square kilometre Sahara desert is spread among several countries, which makes it much harder to utilise the resources co-operatively. Sometimes competition for resources and disputes over boundaries lead to armed conflict. Beneath the Sahara there are vast quantities of oil and natural gas, iron ore, and phosphates. Unfortunately all the countries of the region are relatively poor and there have been many disputes over who owns the land. This is one of the reasons why the area has yet to benefit from large-scale tourism. However 2.5 million people live in the Sahara, mostly indigenous tribes.

Mining often has a huge impact on the environment, but there are other ways to harness the natural resources of the desert. Many scientists believe solar power would provide energy for Europe, revenue for Africa, prevent global warming and utilise the sunlight of the desert without destroying the environment. Solar farms are already being built but more investment is needed.