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Environment Magazine September/October 2008

 

January/February 2007

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Dry: Three Stories of Adaptation to Life Without Water

Up to a billion people live in the drylands of the developing world. They are invariably among the world’s poorest, and many belong to some of the world’s oldest cultures, struggling to come to terms with modernity. These include the Maasai of Kenya, the Chorfa communities of Morocco, and the Topnaars of the Namib Desert.

Some dryland residents are among the world’s most isolated people, such as those who live in Pakistan’s Thar Desert, or inhabitants of the Atacama in Chile, where a single landline telephone is all that connects one town to the rest of the world.

Almost all of them will be worse off if their surrounding natural resources are degraded, because it is these very resources, such as forests, groundwater reserves, and wetlands, that inhabitants of drylands depend on for their survival and livelihoods.

What follows are three stories about what life is like on lands that are dry. More than tales of survival, they provide insights into how people, especially poor people, adapt to their rain-poor environments. The stories have been excerpted from a collection of case studies—16 in all—that were published by Harvard University Press in 2006 in, Dry: Life Without Water.

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