Hot Deserts: Thar Desert Case Study

The Thar Desert is located in northwest India and southeast Pakistan. It is the most densely populated hot desert in the world, with 83 people per square kilometre. Many people living there are subsistence farmers, but the human presence is only growing and threatens aspects of the delicate ecosystem.

Development Opportunities

The Thar Desert has a unique set of economic opportunities that the local human population could take advantage of.

FarmingMost of the farming carried out is subsistence farming. However that is changing; the Indira Ghandi Canal has enabled the irrigation of 3,500 km² of land. Commercial farming of products such as wheat and cotton for sale has created jobs and increased income.
EnergyEnergy is easily produced in the Thar Desert through solar panels, which help desalinate water supplies. Wind energy is also being employed; at Jaisalmer there are 75 wind turbines generating 60 megawatts of electricity. The potential for energy production is huge.
MiningThe Desert holds many minerals that can be extracted from the ground:
• Limestone for steel and cement
• Gypsum used in plaster and cement
• Phosphorite in fertiliser and other chemicals
• Marble for construction
TourismTourism is on the rise, particularly from Pakistan. Desert safaris, including camel treks across long stretches of the desert, are extremely popular.

Development Challenges

Deserts are hostile places for humans and there are many challenges to development there.

InaccessibilityThe desert is huge, covering 200,000 sq km. Road networks through the vast area are very limited, and the roads that do exist can experience melting tarmac and blowing sand that threatens to cover them. The city of Jaisalmer remains popular, but most of the desert is unvisited by tourists and is far poorer than the wealthy city.
TemperaturesThe Thar Desert’s temperature can exceed 50°C in the summer. It’s generally recommended that people seek shelter in such temperatures and avoid physical labour due to exhaustion. Excessive heat slows down mining, farming and tourist activity as it is simply too hot.
Water Supply Water is in very short supply in the Thar Desert, with only 120-240 mm of annual rainfall. The available water must be carefully managed to ensure it doesn’t run out. Farmers use natural ponds called tobas to access water, while settlements build nearest to rivers. However, climate change could lead to lower river levels and a worsening state of water scarcity.

Key Terms

TermDefinition
Subsistence FarmingGrowing only enough food to feed oneself and one’s family
IrrigationThe process of supplying water to land or crops to help growth
Solar panelsDevices designed to convert sunlight into electrical energy
DesalinateTo remove salt from water