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Of deserts, their impacts on human life

| Updated: September 10, 2020 21:21:12

Of deserts, their impacts on human life

Like the seas or oceans, deserts have also long been fascinating man by their immense expanse. Undeniably, the desert sands lying infinitely for ages have beckoned a lot of humans. These people are gifted with a sense of beauty unlike that of the average people. The sun-scorched sands and sand dunes continue to remain as areas of fascination for explorers and adventurists even today. The scenario was not different in the past. Nowadays air travels help man traverse the sprawling Sahara in whatever directions they like. Yet many prefer passing through the ordeals of daytime heat, thirst and sandstorms to crossing it by plane or air-conditioned vehicles.

For many people in the past, spotting a natural oasis filled with greenery and cool water encircled by hot sands was like setting foot on a utopia. But it's also true that a lot of desert-crossing people would die thirsty and exhausted rushing frantically towards the illusions of oases. After running for hours, the oases would turn out to be mirages. This heartbreaking experience led to the deaths of many people. These poor souls used to travel on deserts in caravans, many fleeing wars and famine back at their homelands. Discovering human skeletons were once a common phenomenon in large deserts.

Despite being haunted by unbearable ordeals and, even, death, the daredevil expedition-makers could not be prevented from undertaking these ventures. However, modern wars have compelled battle-hardened soldiers and their generals on camel backs to cross hundreds of miles across the Sahara desert. The mention of such an episode reminds one of the British Army's experiences in two provinces of the Ottoman Empire in the Negev Desert in Sinai Peninsula during World War-1. Desert tribes also play a significant role in the movie's story. The episode was made into a film by British director David Lean. It was called 'Lawrence of Arabia' with Peter O' Toole as the brave but reflective protagonist, Lieutenant Lawrence. Notwithstanding its awe-inspiring beauty, the Sahara has also for ages presented itself as a theatre for outburst of human emotions. Those ranged from heroism to conquests. Tender feelings also did not lag behind.

The Sahara is a perfect metonymy for deserts. It is recognised as the largest of the 23 deserts on earth. The vast Sahara covers 10 countries. They include Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigar, Sudan, Tunisia, Chad and Egypt. All these countries are located in the greater North Africa and Western Sahara. Lately the desert has become the centre-piece of a stunning discovery having many facets. For decades starting from the mid-20th century to the early phase of 21st century, a global climate-related notion reigned supreme. According to it, the earth's ecological conditions in many regions have not been the same over the last ten thousand years. Expanses of lush green vegetation turned into barren swathes, with large tracts of rugged and desert-like tracts eventually emerging as green pastures. In the process of these changes in global landscapes, the radically changed topography of the Sahara desert occupied the most dominant place. Popular beliefs in every corner of the world had it that the Sahara had never been a desert in its earlier stage. After making rounds for over a century, the scientifically unsubstantiated theory regarding Sahara has lately proved to be true.

Based on a number of studies, weather experts are now unanimous in their firm belief that today's Sahara desert was a grassland 4,000 years ago. They have found after research that it was a 1000-year-old mega-drought which was responsible for the start of the desertification process in a vast area. It comprised today's Middle East and a large region in northern Africa. A belt of Sahel countries between the Sahara and the Sub-Saharan Africa is considered vulnerable to encroachment by desertification.  The debilitating drought that sparked the desertification which advanced towards north-west was centred in Southeast Asia.

According to the studies carried out by researchers around the world, and quoted by Daily Mail, the concluding days of 'Green Sahara' were precipitated as the changing world weather patterns caused the large region to dry up. The time when the sylvan Sahara was in existence has now been termed by the climatologists as the African Humid Period. Similar desertification processes may have occurred in many other parts of the planet. But the case of Sahara has stimulated geologists and archaeologists alike, thanks to the desert's impact on human civilisations 4,000 years ago in greater Asia. In fact, a large-scale encroachment of deserts on human habitats and agricultural activities had not yet been experienced by mankind at the time. However, short- and mid-length droughts were not uncommon. The times' kingdoms, kings as well as the general people would consider them as normal seasonal aberrations. Few would be found inquisitive enough to get into the reasons behind the eventual rise in the irregular weather patterns' intensity in the following centuries. As the global weather experts now view it, the process of climate change began showing its signs one to two thousand years before the desertification of the 'Green Sahara'.

Compared to the massive changes caused by erratic climate behaviours thousands of years ago, today's polar snow melt, repeated hurricanes, typhoons and floods appear to be inane. It's time we braced for the worse. A school of climatologists find in these small but recurring natural hazards the portents of future cataclysmic climate changes. This phenomenon might appear in a different way altogether. The 'habitable' Sahara's desertification did not remain confine to the vanishing of the region's green pasture and woodlands. Archaeologists believe the changed Sahara encroached on Mesopotamia's Akkadian Empire. The desertification eventually led to its petering out. At the same time, it witnessed the disappearance of the thriving urbanisation of the Indus civilisation, as well as the emergence of 'pastoralism' along the Nile. Until now, there have been lots of theories at work behind the collapse of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, the two epitomes of urbanisation in the Indus Valley region. Various conditions have for centuries been ascribed to the downfall of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, two centres of Bronze Age civilisation. The causes ranged from the attack of invaders, natural disasters like flood, pestilence etc.

From now on, i.e. upon the new theories' authenticity proofs, the desertification of the massive Sahara and its spillover effect on the adjoining regions is expected to be considered one of the major environmental disasters in human history. The impact of Sahara desertification has lately been found in places as far as the caves in Southeast Asia's Laos. Geologists consider it as the evidence of the 'missing millennia' in Southeast Asia's archaeological record. The changes in Sahara region's topographical character have been the subjects of heated debates for many decades. The very idea that the Sahara desert was once a land filled with greenery had continued to perplex the common folks for long. And it was quite natural.

The largest desert in the world is replete with myriads of typical episodes highlighting heroism and adventures, fables about bravery and the experience of living in natural adversities --- not to speak of the tales of nomadic tribes and their colourful lifestyle. Few people can muster the capability to visualise the present desert as a 'Green Sahara'. However, the Sahara Desert has left influences on all the branches of the arts. Apart from music and painting it has made its presence felt in literature, especially ballads. It seems it is the creative people who especially remained fascinated by the magnificent yet awe-inspiring beauty of this seemingly infinite desert. Even the Bengalee poets like Tagore, Nazrul, the modernist Jibanananda, Sudhin Dutta et al felt mesmerised by the Sahara.

The discovery of Sahara's green past by researchers carries a potent message. There should be worldwide efforts to stop new types of desertification owing to climate change. Deserts stunt all kinds of growth and the prospects for survival.


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