Oil drilling in a desert. Image credit Foxoildrilling.com

Oil drilling in a desert. Image credit Foxoildrilling.com

ZIMSEC O Level Geography Notes: Human Activities in Deserts

  • In spite of their hostile enviroments brought about by aridity leading to shortage of water, pasture, wood fuel and other wood resources, remoteness, infertile and salty soils, disruptive dust storms and temperature extremes most people still choose to settle there and engage in various economic and agricultural activities.
  • These activities include nomadic pastoralism and other forms of agriculture, oil drilling and other forms of mineral exploitation.

Human activities

  • Human settlements at aquifers and oasis.
  • An aquifer is a place where the water table is higher and intersects with the surface thus allowing people to utilise the water in the form of irrigation, domestic and industrial use.
  • Most desert settlement are usually near water sources.
  • Activities usually involve the growing of palm trees or pastoralism for example the people of Sahel and the Beja people of the Sahara desert.
  • There are also some perennial rivers that transverse deserts and people tend to settle along their banks as the rivers acts as a lifeline.
  • An example is the Nile River around which civilisations have existed for millennia with activities such as irrigation using the shaduf and archimedes screw have been practiced for centuries and continue even today.
  • Cotton is grown in the semi-arid and inhospitable Awash valley in Ethiopia something made possible by irrigation schemes.
  • Dams can also be constructed to ease water shortages, provide Hydro-electic power and control flooding an example is the Aswan Dam in Egypt.
  • Various roads and railway lines have been constructed across deserts allowing for the fast transportation of goods across deserts without relying on camels. A highway links Ethiopian regions with Egypt and is used to transport cotton from the Ethiopian fields to Egyptian markets.
  • The development of satellite technologies such allows people in remote parts of the deserts e.g. Oil fieds to use these devices to communicate with other parts of the world thus reducing the remoteness of the region and improving the flow of information.
  • A good portion of the world’s oil fields are also found in desert regions and countries like Saudi Arabia, Libya and the United Arab Emirates can make a living and have even thrived as a result of the Oil boom leading some to refer to Oil as the black gold.
  • Large amounts of income derived from minerals are used to develop these nations’ infrastructure.
  • Settlements have also formed around large oil fields with some even evolving into permanent towns and cities.
  • Other minerals such as opals can also be found in deserts and can lead to settlements for example Coober Pedy in Australia.
  • Towns and cities that originate from the influx of people as a result of mineral discovery are known as Boom towns.
  • Settlements often include specialised houses such as those made from mud which makes cooler and more hospitable than the traditional designs found in other parts of the world.
  • Deserts also offer clear skies that can be ideal for filming, military exercises and weapons testing, solar power generation and wind power generation.
  • Motor sporting activities are also held in deserts.
  • Places like the Valley of Kings are popular tourist sports.
  • Archeological sites also abound in deserts.
  • Using money from Oil recreational facilities, modern roads, railway lines, cities and other infrastructure has been built in the midst of deserts for example Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
  • The Bedouin nomads also engage in cross desert trading activities with various tribal groups.
  • Desalination plants have also been set up to purify water from the sea and make fit for industrial and domestic use.

To access more topics go to the Geography Notes page.