What is Needed for DESERTS TO BECOME FARMLANDS Robert E Gentet & Paul W Kroll
One of the most precious commodities needed to make deserts "bloom as the rose" is WATER. Read about the astonishing plans of scientists to blast chasms in mountains, divide continents, melt Arctic ice packs all in hopes of providing water and a hospitable climate for millions.
WATER is a most precious commodity. Without it, a human could live only a few weeks even under optimum conditions. In desert heat of 120°, a human would die within a week even if given a daily ration of one gallon of water. Man is obviously not at his best state of production under these conditions. And, of course, neither are plants and animals.
Plants and Animals Need Water
True deserts are nearly devoid of life. Even the milder desert areas of the southwestern United States have only limited life forms. Here only plants such as quick-growing annuals, cacti and succulents which have unusual water-storage capabilities, and extremely deep-rooted weeds and trees can survive. Take for example, the saguaro cactus. The secret of the saguaro water-storage system lies in its accordion-pleated trunk. This trunk can expand and contract as its water content increases or decreases. From one downpour, a saguaro has been observed to expand one full inch in 24 hours. Considering the height of the saguaro, that involves many gallons of water stored for drought-season usage. During the spring rainy season the cacti and even the seemingly barren desert floor burst forth in a riot of colorful flowers. Some animals can survive the harsh desert climates. But they, too, must have some special method for obtaining and maintaining a water supply. The camel, for instance, can store enough water within his three-room stomach to last seventeen days. When he finds water to replenish his supply, he can drink twenty-five to fifty gallons at once. Another amazing creature, the kangaroo rat, gets along without ever drinking water. The kangaroo rat simply provides his own water from juicy foods through an unusual chemical process.
Remarkably, many forms of life are able to survive in the desert. Within the relatively small area of Death Valley in California, the number of identified plant species is 200. Many arid areas support extensive life forms however sparsely scattered they may be. But all life must have water. For example, an accompanying series of photographs shows the unusual relationship between the woodpecker, the elf owl and the saguaro cactus. But without water, the cactus would die. Without the cactus, the woodpecker and elf owl would have little success in finding a suitable place to live or rear their young. They would be threatened with extinction. And so it is with the cactus wren and the cholla cactus. Without water the cactus would perish and with it the wren. Both need water for survival. Some previously desert areas, especially in the United States, have been developed and now produce abundant crops. But again water is the needed factor. Without it, no crops will grow. In some areas of the world as in the Sahara almost total lack of rainfall has become fact. The area as a whole receives less than one inch of rain per year. The Sahara is the world's greatest desert. It stretches across the entire 3200-mile width of North Africa, covering nearly one third of that entire continent, an area about the same size as all 50 of the United States! Some large areas of this desert do not experience rainfall for 10 years at a time! The highest climatic temperature ever recorded on earth was measured at Azizia in the Libyan sector a staggering 136.4 degrees in the shade.
Waste Areas of the Earth
The Sahara is by no means the world's only extensive arid region. Any area receiving less than an average of 10 inches of rain each year can be classified a desert. The "Sparselands" of Australia cover 1,300,000 square miles a shocking 44 percent of the entire continent! In plainer words, over two fifths of Australia is a desert the second largest in the world. The average rainfall in its driest places is only five inches a year. One million square miles of the Arabian Peninsula is also desert and an unusually high percentage of this one third is covered by sand. Unlike other deserts, the Arabian (the world's third largest) has no sufficiently watered mountains to serve as river sources. But these deserts are only the beginning. There are nine other major desert areas making twelve in all! These major deserts are: 4) The Turkestan in Russia 750,000 square miles. 5) The North American 500,000 square miles. 6) The Gobi of Mongolia 400,000 square miles. 7) The Patagonian in Argentina 260,00 square miles. 8) The Thar or Indian in western India 230,000 square miles. 9) The Kalahari in southern Africa 220,000 square miles. 10) The Takla Makan in western China 200,000 square miles. 11) The Iranian 150,000 square miles. 12) The Atacama-Peruvian in Chile and Peru 140,000 square miles. Today, fourteen percent of the earth's 56 million square miles of land surface is desert. This is one seventh of the earth's land surface! Semi-desert regions account for an additional fourteen percent. They receive only 10 to 20 inches of rain per year. Together, these arid and semiarid regions comprise nearly three tenths of the earth's land surface! This would be equal to an area about four and one-half times the size of all 50 states of the United States. Think of it! Vast areas of the earth lying in bleak conditions unable even to yield a ground cover for lack of sufficient water.
Needed: More Producing Areas
Paradoxically, the world's population explosion makes ever-greater demands on food-producing land. Deserts and other generally uninhabited or sparsely inhabited areas are being sought out more and more. Regions taken for granted as waste lands a few years ago are now requiring development. Artesian wells, lakes, reservoirs and even ocean-side salt-removal plants are providing a little very little water for the thirsty land. Even then, desert irrigation is full of pitfalls. Reservoirs may fill up with silt. Unless irrigated land is properly drained by underground tiles, salts carried in solution by desert irrigation waters can ruin soil. Three fourths of Iraq's formerly irrigated land is now ruined for that very reason. Modern irrigation is not making appreciable gains. Deserts in many areas are growing much faster than modern technology can reclaim them. Look at Africa for a moment. "The agricultural outlook for the arid zones of North Africa is rather grim," warned H. N. LeHouerou of the Expanded Program of Technical Assistance, at a recent international conference on Arid Lands in a Changing World. He pointed out: "The pasture lands are rapidly becoming depleted and the desert gains more than 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) per year on the average." In places, the desert in North Africa is advancing up to 30 miles per year! This is the same North Africa that once constituted the breadbasket of the ancient Roman Empire.
The Deserts Reclaimed!
Any real and permanent solution to the problems of arid lands must include a source of usable water, an equitable government, a sound economic system and an educated populace all on a global basis. The most basic problems of all are the lack of water and the lack of topsoil. All other problems in arid regions in some way relate to these major needs. Any hope for the future development of arid lands rests on finding an adequate supply of usable water. The humus lost in semiarid areas through the centuries by wrong farming practices, overgrazing and erosion cannot be rebuilt without adequate water to produce a ground cover. To have thick forests, verdant plants and lush crops, we must have water and have it in the needed amounts at the proper time and in the right place.
Controlling the Weather
These considerations, in turn, involve the critical problem of CHANGING worldwide weather patterns. Many fantastic schemes have been proposed to "get rain in due season," to turn uninhabitable lands with either too much or not enough rainfall into temperate, livable areas. Here are some of them: USE CARBON TO BLACKEN ARCTIC ICE. Loss of solar energy by reflection would be reduced. Northern wastelands would become more habitable. DAM THE BERING STRAIT. By doing this and pumping icy Arctic waters into the Pacific Ocean, the year-round weather of the Arctic region would be improved. CREATE A FIVE-MILE-THICK ICE CLOUD OVER THE ARCTIC. This would be done by exploding 10 so-called "clean" hydrogen bombs beneath Arctic Ocean waters. The steam cloud generated by the blast would condense into water droplets and freeze. The end result is said to be a change in dynamics for general circulation, thereby improving world climate. BLAST HOLES THROUGH SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS. This would permit the passage of moist Pacific air into the barren Nevada desert, making it bloom as a rose. This principle would apply wherever mountain barriers are responsible for creating deserts. Other plans are: Reverse flow of rivers, melt polar ice caps, join and separate continents one consequence of which would be to get moist air to inland deserts create and eliminate islands, increase rate of water evaporation to put more water into the atmosphere for rainmakers to manipulate. More grandiose schemes involve controlling storms such as hurricanes. Perhaps even more astounding is the visionary plan for altering the atmosphere of Mars and the climate of Venus to make them habitable for man. Mars is currently a desert-like wasteland similar to the surface of the moon. The ambition of man in this regard knows no bounds. As early as 1957 one scientist told the U.S. Government's Advisory Committee on Weather Control that: "were he wise enough, man could produce favorable effects... transforming his environment to render it more salutary for his purposes." With great gusto, he told his colleagues: "By all means let us get at it." Now, suppose the immense complexities of these and other projects were worked out. Would the results of altering such basic cycles as the hydrology of earth the cycle of this most important element WATER really be a blessing or a curse? There is great disagreement even among scientists as to the consequences of these gargantuan projects. Many admit there is simply no way of knowing all the disastrous consequences of major meteorological tampering. Scientists acknowledge THEY DO NOT KNOW the consequences of their plans to remold our planet. As in so many of his activities, man comes to a blind alley. He understands what the problems are; he may even dimly see what needs to be done in a general way. But then he is limited by his inability to as it were step out of himself to see the totality of the consequences of his doings. Yet, in order to make the deserts blossom, to make tundra inhabitable, to alter climate our earth MUST BE restructured. The hopes of men, the dreams of scientists, the prophecies of ancient men about a lush world of greenery, cannot occur until the earth is physically altered. Only then, as one ancient prophet worded it, will mankind enjoy Utopia: "Even the wilderness and desert will rejoice in those days; the desert will blossom with flowers... springs will burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. "The parched ground will become a pool, with springs of water in the thirsty land. Where desert jackals lived, there will be reeds and rushes" (Isaiah 35:1, 6, 7, Living Prophecies version). That is the promise of one who calls himself God. Could there, after all, be a God one who made all there is? If so, certainly He would understand what should be done to alter the climatic patterns of this earth to achieve what man is desperately attempting to achieve.