A History of DesertificationMay 13, 2015

"‘Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

- "Ozymandias" (Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818)

The United Nations will observe the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought on June 17. This is a very serious issue, as most cases in migration are linked to the effects of desertification. In case you find it hard to believe, then think of Australia.

The island continent is mostly arid, but this doesn't force the Aussies to seek other lands. It's the opposite, right? It shows our efficiency in handling the situation. However, we should be worried about desertification in other parts of the world. It will affect us one way or another.

Here are three cases:

The Indus Valley Civilization. One of the cradles of civilisations was located in present-day Iraq. It used to be the site of Mesopotamia, which flourished within the Tigris-Euphrates river system. But this wasn't the only community in that region. There were many bodies of water found there. The Harappan Civilization, for instance, emerged in the region occupying Pakistan and Afghanistan. Historians were puzzled at first, as this area was hardly sustainable for living. Imagine vegetation all over the place. (It would remind us about the Outback. Whether or not the Aborigines were partly responsible for the desertification in Oz would be open to debate.) Five million people lived in that area. What caused the decline? Scientists found artifacts pointing to the invasion of the Aryans from the northeast. Not a few suspected climate change, which might explain the drying up of the Sarasvati River. Some migrated further east, where the culture continued in India. The rest moved westward.

Ancient Carthage. A seafaring people ruled the Mediterranean during the heyday of Ancient Greece and the rise of the Roman Empire. There wasn't any record of significant drop in sea level, so what were the reasons behind the collapse of the Carthaginian Civilization? Many pointed to the Minoan eruption, which led to a period of intense turmoil in Egypt. If a volcanic activity of such magnitude could affect a place that far, then it won't be hard to imagine Carthage, located in present-day Tunisia. But there would be another reason.

Roman Empire. Carthage became a Roman province, and there have been many evidences of Rome depending its food supply on Ancient Carthage. There have been too many agricultural activities, which led to the decrease of nutrients in the soil. It would make the land unproductive, prompting the citizens to search for another place. It happened that the Vandals lived there.

There may be no mass migration nowadays, but traveling from one place to another is no longer difficult. The reasons are mostly political and economic in nature, but it's still traced to the effects of desertification. And Australia is one of those countries they want to live. If you think that's a reason to worry about, then think of Western Europe. Let's not forget North America.  

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