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The Mediterranean Semi-Arid Regions

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Introduction

The Mediterranean Semi- arid Region is geographically placed on the northern tip of the African continent from Western Sahara all the way to Libya. This region is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Sahara desert, which is the largest desert in the world to the south. A big part of this region is actually taken up by this desert. The aim of this report is to compare possible methods of provision of water in this region. The table below shows the amount of precipitation in the Sahel region.

Sahel rainfall from 1900 to 2007 averaged over June, July, August, September, and October JJASO. Click on image for a zoom. From Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, University of Washington

Importance of Semi-arid regions

The development of agriculture has a tendency to start in the moist arable land first. As the population grows, there emerges a greater need for the increased production of food; shelter and clothing in order to meet the demand. As a result of this, too much pressure is put on the arable land; it then becomes necessary to make use of land that is not quite suitable for agriculture. Though it is not possible to change unreliability of the rainfall, short and medium term methods of water provision to the semi arid regions can go a long way in improving the lives of the inhabitants as a result of improved yields (Hudson, Norman. P3).

Methods of water provision

Underground water

The water found underground in aquifers can be harnessed by drilling wells or boreholes to tap into the rocks containing the water. More often than not, this water is usually hard water but is however safe for domestic use. Underground water is quite reliable as once the well has reached the aquifer, the well will continue producing water even during the dry season. This may end up serving the inhabitants of the semi arid region well because of the unreliability of the rainfall (Hudson, Norman. P5l)

Harvesting Rainfall

Rain water harvesting can be useful in these semi arid areas instead of the water going to waste. Rain water is fresh and does not require treatment; it is therefore safe for domestic consumption. Many arid and semi arid regions experience flash floods whereby huge amounts of rainfall descend on the land over a relatively short period. The water is then trapped and stored in tanks for future use. As much as the initial construction or purchase of the tanks may cause some money, once they are set, these inhabitants will not incur additional costs. Depending on the size and capacity of the tanks, the water may continue to be used even when the rains fail (Hudson, Norman. P53)

Recycling Waste Water

This can be done through the setting up of water treatment facility where water that has already been used can be recycled through treatment in the facility. This process ensures that the little water available in the semi arid regions does not go to waste. This type of water provision is however quite expensive because of the infrastructure required to set up the treatment facility. The water also requires a great deal of treatment and it is not economical to sustain such a facility for treatment of water for domestic consumption. Industries that are located in the semi arid areas may benefit immensely as a result of the cost cutting that such a facility will bring with it. These industries will end up buying relatively less water. The recycled water may however be too contaminated at times thereby making it harmful to the health of humans if it is ingested.

Desalination

Water from the ocean and seas which is salty can be pumped into water stations where it is treated for domestic consumption. This will go a long way in reducing the pressure exerted on fresh water sources such as rivers. This technology has been employed in some countries such as Israel. However, the costs involved may lock out many areas who may not be able to afford the facilities required to set up such an endeavor.( Hudson, Norman. P53)

In the recent past, there has been a shift in focus in some countries in that the possibility of producing food from arid and semi arid regions has been seen as a viable option for increasing food production. This shift, however, is not universal because in some countries in the region, food production is actually on the decline as a result of an apparent lack of political will to develop the arid and semi -arid areas. The provision of water is a step towards the eventual development of these areas.

General Problems

Extent of soil erosion

Soil erosion is a major problem in many semi- arid regions. In this region, soil erosion is mainly caused by wind and also as a result of flash floods that may occur from time to time. Semi arid areas suffer more rainfall erosion when compared to the humid tropics because the relatively high erosive capacity of rain water causes more damage in the semi arid regions due to the little vegetative cover. In Morocco for example studies have shown that about 40% of that country's total land area is actually exposed to erosion (Hudson, Norman p7).

Shortage of information

Over the past, as far as agriculture was concerned, marginal areas were neglected and emphasis was always put on the production of food in land that was arable, with good soils and an area that received adequate rainfall. This neglect led to a general lack of information. In semi arid region there has been little research on the type and composition of soils and crops that would thrive under such circumstances. The unavailability of water has also made the matter even more serious. Inhabitants of this areas, who moistly live a nomadic or semi nomadic lifestyle have not been sensitized on the potential economics of agricultural production that may come with the provision of water. (Hudson, Norman p7).

Lack of Technology

This is as a consequence of a number of factors such as low research commitment, a general lack of interest and other complexities of the problem. Despite the fact that studies on different water management techniques for example tied ridging and water tillage have shown to be quite viable in these arid areas, this technologies have either been restricted to experimental stations hence they are insufficient to have a substantial impact on the semi arid areas (Hudson, Norman p7).

Some limitations of Provision

The scarce resources for agricultural extension services that have been important in the interaction between the residents of the semi-arid areas and the providers of agrometerological information which in the past were funded by governments or local authorities have been replaced by private commercial companies and in some areas the situation is worse because they are no longer available; this is as a result of diminishing fiscal resources in the countries of the Mediterranean region (Andersen, Jeffery p141).

Some Possible Solutions

The semi arid areas receive little precipitation in the form of rainfall; water harvesting is an important aspect to take into account if these areas are to be made to be viable agriculturally. Water management techniques such as water tillage and tied ridging have shown great promise and should therefore be emphasized. It is the responsibility of the governments involved to disseminate the information and know how about these techniques. To curb the rampant soil erosion in the semi arid regions, there is a need to encourage the planting of vegetative cover that has the ability to withstand the harsh climatic conditions and also the inhabitants of this area who are mostly nomads need to be enlightened on the negative effects of overstocking.

More research on the different soil types found in the various arid regions needs to be given the prominence it deserves. This research should go hand in hand with research on the crop varieties that would do the best under the given conditions of this region. In this regard, the dissemination of this information needs to be done in a timely manner through extension officers who play an important role and also through other modern methods such as the World Wide Web (Andersen, Jeffery p41)

Conclusion

With the provision of adequate water, the Mediterranean semi arid region has the ability to produce commodities not only for consumption by its inhabitants but also for export. For this aim to be achieved there needs to be a paradigm shift especially in the governments of the countries involved to tap into the full potential of the region. The resources that would have otherwise been used to import food commodities should instead be used in the provision of water to the residents, on research and production of different food varieties that can thrive under irrigation in these semi arid areas.

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