Most of us take water for granted: we turn on a tap and wet stuff gushes out. In fact depending on where you live, you might spend a considerable part of your year moaning about the wet weather and wishing you lived somewhere hot and sunny. But for some folk, scarcity of water is a real problem and it can become quite literally life threatening. So where are the driest places on the planet?
You might assume that Antarctica is pretty wet. After all, there’s an awful lot of snow and ice in that part of the world, which is essentially water. But one part of Antarctica known as the Dry Valleys has had no rain for two million years. This makes the Dry Valleys, a desolate place where no life is sustainable, officially the driest place on the planet.
When it comes to ‘dry’, the Atacama Desert really takes things to a whole new level. Thanks to the Andes and the mountains on the Chilean coast blocking cloud formation, rain is so infrequent it is virtually non-existent. In fact there is so little rain (4 inches every thousand years) that nothing grows there. But despite the harsh conditions, people do eke out a living in the desert. Some work in the copper mines and others at research stations in the desert, so life is possible, even in such an extreme place.
Al-Kufrah in Libya is the driest place in Africa. The only water in this part of Libya is found in deep underground reservoirs. Where the water is close to the surface, oases are found and people and animals can survive. Crops are grown around the oases: mainly dates, apricots and peaches. The rest of the region is a never-ending sea of sand dunes.
Aswan in Egypt is not blessed by the cool ocean breezes found in other parts of this hot, dry country. Aswan is very hot and dry and has almost no rain throughout the year. It is also affected by strong, hot winds that blast sand across the city, which is very unpleasant if you happen to be out in the open during a sand storm.
Luxor in Egypt is another extremely dry place. Like Aswan, Luxor suffers from the effects of vicious sand storms that last for days at a time. Amazingly, some of the world’s best known statues and antiquities in Luxor—the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings—are still standing despite constant sand blasting.
Ica in Peru is on the edge of the Atacama Desert, so it is very arid. Mummified remains of pre-Colombian people have been discovered in the region. The air is so dry that human remains can’t decompose, so they stay virtually intact.
Human life (or indeed any life) is unsustainable without some kind of water supply. In coastal areas sea water can be treated in desalination plants but inland, the only option is to try and tap into underground water aquifers via a well.