The Wealth of the Sahara

Courtesy Reuters

THE Sahara, comparable in size to the United States, is essentially a land of minerals. Plants, animals and men, all live there artificially. The vast spaces, the heat, the lack of water and vegetation have combined over the centuries to make it a desert and a virtually impassable obstacle dividing Mediterranean civilizations from the people of Black Africa. Today, however, modern techniques have enabled men to transform what was a natural barrier into an economic and social link between Europe and Africa. Why, how and by whom has this historic revolution been accomplished? My object here is to try to answer those questions.

From the Atlantic westwards to Libya, from Algeria south to the frontiers of Nigeria, the Sahara covers 1,650,000 square miles of what we call the French Community. In this vast area the average rainfall each year is less than 4 inches. What is more, the precipitation is very irregular, so that two or three years may pass without a drop of water, followed by a tropical tornado which carries away everything in its wake. The variations in temperature are among the greatest in the world: a minimum of 21° F. in Tamanrasset and a maximum of 131° F. in Timimoun. For the most part, the soil is composed of sand (pure quartz), dry crusts of marl, limestone and grit, and stones eroded by wind and varying temperatures. In the center is a huge, bare, crystalline mountain, the Hoggar; in prehistoric times, when rain fell in that region, it served as a sort of water tower. Around this mountain can still be found a cobweb of river valleys, dried up for dozens of centuries.

Such are the conditions under which, until recently, a very small population used to live--and live very badly. The Sahara is the least inhabited area on the globe except for the waste regions around the Poles.

The greater part of the Sahara belongs to the French Community and is divided into two departments, directly connected to France, and four

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