Notice the sunshine in the desert
Jun 21, 2006 - Sanjay suri - IPSnews
A recent United Nations report suggests that
the Sahara desert could capture enough solar energy
to eventually supply all of the world's electricity
needs. The report also points to some of the threats
such as declining water resources which threaten delicate
The Sahara desert alone can
capture enough solar energy to supply all the world's
electricity needs and more, a United Nations report
says. "Deserts are a great expanse of land, and have
great potential to supply much, much more," Shafaqat
Kakakhel, deputy executive director of the United
Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) told IPS at the
launch of a report on the deserts to mark Environment
"The report says that one solar park which would
sit within the Sahara could supply all the energy
needs of the world," he said. "Of course there are
many, many complications. But the potential is there."
The report points to the bright side of deserts but
while warning also of new dangers that deserts face.
Declining water levels is the biggest among them.
"There is no question that the water levels in the
underwater reservoir in many deserts are dropping,"
Kakakhel said. "But it's not just the water levels
in the underground reservoirs, it's the rivers that
come into deserts that are being diverted and used
elsewhere, it's the melting glaciers which are providing
a little bit of water now but when they disappear
it's like turning the tap off. So really water is
being turned off on all sides."
The report makes a
clear distinction between deserts and desertification.
"We mustn't confuse desertification with arid lands
that are being degraded, with the desert ecosystem
which is an agile and unique ecosystem in itself which
supports a substantial diversity in plants and species,"
Kakakhel said. "They are two separate issues."
Andrew Warren, professor of geography at the University
College London, one of the key authors of the report
said that in the popular mind there is more concern
over what is called desertification than with deserts.
And desertification is seen usually as sand dunes
advancing into cities. "But that is not that big a
problem," Warren told IPS. "The far bigger issue is
what is happening within the deserts themselves, they
are vast and very sensitive ecosystems, and they are
home to 500 million people. It is not necessarily
deserts spreading. It is things getting worse within
And the danger from factors such as declining
water levels is already upon us, he said. "Pakistan
is under a serious water threat. The biggest lake
in the Colorado is drier than it has ever been. So
it is happening now. And it probably will get worse."
Some of this degradation is man-made, says the UNEP
report on the global deserts outlook. Deserts are
increasingly being used as military training grounds
and as prisons and refugee holding stations. These
intrusions import many people into deserts, generate
considerable income and help upgrade infrastructure
but have large environment footprints particularly
with respect to water," the report says. "In an insecure
and competitive world, this kind of investment will
continue, even grow."
By 2050 population growth and
inefficient water use will move some countries "beyond
the thresholds of water stress," the report says.
Some of the countries in danger are Chad, Iraq, Niger
and Syria. In some areas renewable water supplies
are threatened severely by 2025. These sources include
the Gariep river in southern Africa, the Rio Grande
and Colorado rivers in North America, the Tigris and
Euphrates in southwestern Asia and the Amu Darya and
Indus rivers in central Asia.
"Better management of
water supplies will be the key challenge for the future
of deserts but could, if successful, be a beacon of
hope and good practice for other water-short parts
of the globe," the report says. The report highlights
other bright spots in the desert apart from the scope
for trapping solar energy. The sunlight and temperature
regimes have surprisingly led to an increase in shrimp
and fish farms in deserts in locations like Arizona
in the United States to the Negev desert in Israel,
the report says. "Such ventures offer new and potentially
environment-friendly livelihoods for local people