Splendour of the Sahara
When one thinks of a desert, the Sahara is probably seen as an archetype. Let’s explore this huge and fascinating expanse.
Sahara is derived from the Arabic word ‘The Greatest Desert’. A definition of a desert is a barren land with very small precipitation activity making living conditions plant and animal life unfavourable. By this definition the Antarctic and the Artic are the largest deserts in the world.
Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world and third largest in the world. Characteristics of the large desert include high temperatures year round, strong wind, lack of cloud cover and low humidity. Evaporation is greater than humidity.
Sahara covers much of North and West Africa. The African continent contains three deserts. Besides Sahara, there is Kalahari covering Angola, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Namib covering Angola and Namibia. These are in the south of the Equator and hence termed Sub Saharan Africa. Kalahari is less than a tenth the size of Sahara and the Namib is less than 1% of the area of Sahara.
it covers 31% of Africa and extends from the Red Sea (east) Mediterranean ( north) to the Atlantic Ocean ( west). Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan and Tunisia have significant portion of their land area within the Sahara.
Interestingly there is a town called Ain Sefra in Algeria which despite being located in the Sahara, has had three snow falls. This is partly because of its elevation. Most of Sahara exceeds 300 days of sunshine at 12 hours a day.
For such a barren place Sahara has an enormous variety of Flora and Fauna. Foxes such as Fennec fox, Pale fox and Ruppell fox, Gazelles such as Dorca gazelle, Rhim gazelle, and the close relative Addax have all adapted to the harshness of the Sahara. The Saharan Cheetah lives in the westen part whereas North Eastern Cheetah is a distinct sub species. They are highly endangered.
The flora of Central Sahara such as palms, acacia trees, succulents, and grasses demonstrate equal adaptation to the hostile conditions.
In the scramble for Africa in the 19th century, it was claimed in portions by the European powers. The French claimed most of the Sahara region including most of West Africa, the exception being the area which became known as Western Sahara. The British claimed Egypt and moved west to claim Sudan and established Khartoum in 1823. Italy wrested part of Libya from Ottoman Empire.
In the mid 20th century the reverse occurred when independent nations arose from the Sahara. Egypt and Libya became independent in 1936 and 1951 respectively. Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia in 1956. Chad, Mali and Mauritania and Niger in 1960. Algeria in 1962. Spain left Western Sahara in 1962, which was divided between Morocco and Mauritania with Morocco claiming all of it in 1979.
Evidence suggest that there was water in this region and not always been a dry and hostile place. Many ‘Petroglyphs’ or rock carvings depicting crocodiles and fish have been found. Over 15000 of these exist most of them in Southern Algeria.