A desert is an area of land or region that gets very little precipitation (rain, snow, hail etc.). The "technical" definition is an area that has either less than 250 mm of precipitation per year or loses more moisture than actually falls. Consequently vegetation cover is very sparse. Deserts cover about one third of the earth’s surface. Because of the lack of moisture, the dry desert air cannot block the sun’s rays during the day or retain heat during the night. As soon as the sun sets, the desert cools rapidly, radiating its heat into the atmosphere. This results in huge temperature variations between day and night, ranging from 45° C during the day in summer to freezing point at night in winter.

The largest hot desert is the Sahara, where these photos were taken. It is larger than the whole of Australia, with an area of over 9,000,000 square kilometers and covers most of North Africa.
Two West African countries battling against desert growth – known as desertification – are Burkina Faso and Senegal. Triggered by rapid population growth, desertification renders vast swathes of land mass barren due to over cultivation. Burkina Faso has a population of 17.5 million. An average birth rate of six children per woman means it could reach 47 million by 2050.

If this rate cannot be curbed, the 100-million-mark will be crossed a generation later. The northeast of the country lies in the Sahel, where desertification is a major problem. Over population forces people to cultivate the land too intensively and deteriorating soil quality drives migration to the capital, Ouagadougou. A similar scenario can be found in Senegal, where the north suffers from frequent droughts and the population is expected to leap from 13 to 32 million by 2050. Deforestation and overgrazing are the main reasons for accelerating desertification when land resources are insufficient to sustain a rapidly growing population.

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