Climate Fears Drought and Desertification

As scientists mulled over whether the global climate was warming or cooling, one climatic impact was making headlines all over the world: the devastating drought and accompanying expansion of deserts in the African Sahel. The Sahel, a region extending in an east-west band (4,000 miles wide by 1,000 miles [6,400 km by 1,600 km] long) just south of the massive Sahara and home during this period to between 40 and 60 million people, depends on the summer monsoons for most of its yearly rainfall. If the monsoons fail, as they had since 1969, crops wither and die, livestock perish through lack of food and water, and people either die with them or migrate to find water. By late 1972, it appeared that a major famine threatened the Sahel. Although most nations in the region were unable to keep track of their populations over vast rural areas with limited communications, the western Sahel nation of Mauritania estimated that 80 percent of the cattle, 30 percent of the camels, and over 50 percent of the sheep and goats within its borders had died. Government officials

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