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Q: Why do people live in the desert? ( Answered 3 out of 5 stars,   6 Comments )
Subject: Why do people live in the desert?
Category: Science > Social Sciences
Asked by: davebailey-ga
List Price: $4.50
Posted: 31 May 2002 09:46 PDT
Expires: 30 Jun 2002 09:46 PDT
Question ID: 19105
Why do people live in the desert? If the conditions are so harsh
(heat, drought, famine), why not leave the desert for better areas to
live? (Details would be appreciated about different reasons. Also nice
would be authoritative sources that address this issue.)
Subject: Re: Why do people live in the desert?
Answered By: xemion-ga on 31 May 2002 10:21 PDT
Rated:3 out of 5 stars
According to, here are some reasons people live in
the desert:

- The land is undeveloped.
- The climate is warmer.
- Medical conditions such as allergies and respirator ailments are
- The job market is less competitive.
- Housing costs are lower.
- An urban metropolis is nowhere in sight.
- The scenery is desolate and beautiful. is an extension of Nystrom Atlas, a leading publisher
of maps and geography programs for students and teachers.  You'll find
those reasons and other useful information on deserts on this PDF

I found this website by searching Google for "why do people live in
the desert" (including quotation marks).  Thanks!


Request for Answer Clarification by davebailey-ga on 31 May 2002 12:20 PDT
I was specifically interested in areas where people are born in harsh
desert environments as opposed to living in desert areas in the US.
I've some of my own thoughts about this, but wanted to see what others

I especially liked the answers of- dnoha-ga and knowledge_seeker-ga.

Clarification of Answer by xemion-ga on 01 Jun 2002 10:22 PDT
Ok, thank you for the clarification.  I will research your question
further and post another answer.  Thank you!


Clarification of Answer by xemion-ga on 01 Jun 2002 15:42 PDT
The main reasons someone would stay in the desert are:

1.)  They were born there.  They grew up there.  They don't know why
you wouldn't like it.

2.)  They can't afford to live or move somewhere else.

Since these answers were already provided to you by dnoha-ga and
knowledge_seeker-ga, I'm not sure what else I can tell you on the

As a side note, I think the U.S. deserts seem quite harsh.  The Death
Valley in California is one of the hottest places on the earth:

I would also recommend being slightly more detailed with your
questions in the future. For example, specifically stating you were
not interested in U.S. deserts.

If you are not satisified with my answers, please feel free to request
a refund at:

davebailey-ga rated this answer:3 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: Why do people live in the desert?
From: tlspiegel-ga on 31 May 2002 10:59 PDT
(This comment doesn't include deserts in Africa or other very desolate
areas of the world, but developed areas in the US.)

The answer given was a fine one and I'd like to add my comments.

Rather than having to do any research - because I do live in one of
the US's deserts - I must say it's the most beautiful place on the
planet.  In addtion to being very lush, warm, and having superior
winter/fall/spring climates... the climate is very dry, and quite a
bit healthier for humans.  Housing costs and general cost of living is
much cheaper... and we don't suffer famine, but that will exist in
other areas of the world. There is drought from time to time, but I
haven't experienced any problems, and this problem isn't limited to
the desert, but in many other areas as well.  It is not desolate at

Our summers start off with low 90's up to triple digits - but the
humidity levels are very low ranging from 2% - 15%.  This makes it
nice and comfortable.  When the monsoon season does start, sometime in
the middle of June lasting until end of September then it gets very
uncomfortable due to higher humidity levels around 35% and high
dewpoint levels.  And the temperature can go up to levels that sound
scary.  But one plans their days to do things very early in the
morning or late at night.

The monsoon season is probably the biggest drawback because of the
dust, wind, lightning, possible torrential rain downpours, and
occasional microburst.  However if you like to 'observe' storms from
inside... it's a magnificent sight.
And they don't happen daily and weeks may go by before you'll
experience another one.  Some years it could very well be called a
'nonsoon'.  :)

There is much to do where I reside, places to see, hiking the
mountains (yes the desert here has mountains that are magnificent for
climbing or walking on the trails).  Metropolitan areas are close
enough to drive in a short time, and the outlying areas have outdoor
strip malls every few miles or so... with grocery stores, drugstores,
large chain stores, gas stations, and basically anything you'd find in
a bustling city.

Eldery people retire in the desert climates for their health, but it's
not a total escape from pollen or allergens, because flora and fauna
grow all year 'round.  And not only the elderly live here!

The sun shines a lot... which helps with mood levels.  We rarely have
dreary days, and we do have a rainy season during certain times of the

Many people have migrated from other areas to the desert, and never
looked back. Making it a very good decision.

Thank you,
Subject: wow!
From: blusynapse-ga on 31 May 2002 11:07 PDT
a very interesting question, dave - squarely the
leaves-you-wondering-why kind! i was hoping for a more satisfying
response, though
Subject: Re: Why do people live in the desert?
From: dnoha-ga on 31 May 2002 11:49 PDT
Interesting considerations for why someone would want to live in a
desert area have already been given.  But it might also be instructive
to consider it from another angle …

As the question was originally phrased, there was an essence that
wondered why people don’t leave areas that are disadvantageous to live
in.  Why do they stay?

When we dispense with the obvious reasons that cause some people who
would otherwise be disposed to leave (political, economic, etc.),
we’re still left with the fact that there are people who stay in such
areas and under such conditions by choice.

This quickly becomes less about the desert and more about people and
their reasons for doing what they do, or more precisely not doing what
we think we would do in their shoes.

I’m reminded of the time my father told me that when he was in France
during WWII, he couldn’t quite get over the fact that the little
children there could all speak a “foreign language” fluently.  It was
a foreign language to him, and had been difficult for him to learn as
an adult.  But for them, it was their native language and it wasn’t at
all unusual that was what they spoke.

We all have a strong tendency to continue to do what we’re accustomed
to.  I was raised in a small town.  I now live outside a miniscule
town out in “the boonies”.  I’ve often traveled to various big cities
worldwide, and I’ve never met one I thought I’d be comfortable living
in.  Too many people, too much noise, everyone scurrying about like
ants, not enough nature.  On the other hand, there are folks who think
I’m nuts for living out in the middle of nowhere.

As a related anecdote, I heard on NPR this week that something like
90% of the young people who grow up in Amish communities and then
leave to join the modern world end up returning permanently to the
Amish community.  To most young people outside that community, this
would seem incredibly bizzare.

Ultimately, I think the inquiry you’re after is more about human
psychology than about the merits or demerits of desert living.
Subject: Re: Why do people live in the desert?
From: knowledge_seeker-ga on 31 May 2002 11:49 PDT
Interesting question!

I’ll address this in terms of native peoples, which I think is where
your question was leading.

One thing to remember is that our perspective on what we consider to
be a hospitable environment is relative to what we are accustomed to. 
People who have spent their lives in desert climes don’t question the
heat and the drought.  It’s just part of life. (I spent 2.5 years in
the Australian Outback, I know this)  Imagine a desert child reading a
book about the rainforest and asking, “Why do people put up with all
that rain and humidity and tropical disease? Why don’t they just move
away?” Or a Jamaican reading about Canada, “That must be horrible
having all that cold weather and horrible snow.”  Or a southern
Californian reading about, well anywhere else, “Weather changes?!”  

However, your question also addresses famine, which is a whole other
issue.  Famine is created by politics, and is not necessarily tied to
an ecological niche.  For 10’s of thousands of years humans have lived
comfortably off the fruits of desert lands, and in many countries
still do. (Think of Arabs or Kuwaitis) However wars, arbitrary
political boundaries, restriction of movement of people, agricultural
restrictions, and trade laws, can prevent people from using the land
(any land) to provide for their own subsistence. Also, more key to
your question, they also prevent people from freely moving to areas
which are more abundant.

Some interesting perspectives on Famine are listed below.  My point is
to illustrate that the term “desert” does not go hand-n-hand as a
causational correlate with the word “famine” ---

“The traditional approach to famine analysis…proposes that famines are
primarily caused by a sudden decline in food availability. …until
Amartya Sen’s Nobel Prize winning work. …. In his studies of several
well-known historical famines, he found that famines occurred even
when per capita food output was maintained. Hence, his ‘entitlement
approach’ focused on the distribution of food as well as its absolute

“… Famine has become a Worldwide phenomenon: dearth and starvation are
striking simultaneously in all major regions of the World; Sub-Saharan
Africa, Northeast Brazil, South Asia, the Andean altiplano of South
America, the former Soviet Union... From the dry savannah of the
Sahelian belt, famine has extended its grip into the wet tropical
heartland. …”

“There was famine in the Ukraine in 1932--1933. But it was provoked
mainly by the struggle to the bitter end that the Ukrainian far-right
was leading against socialism and the collectivization of

“…the United Nations estimated that as of July 1998 there were 2.6
million people at risk of starvation in Sudan…. This famine was caused
and is being perpetuated by human rights abuses by all parties to the
civil war, now in its fifteenth year. Indeed, 2.4 million of those at
risk of famine were in southern Sudan, the main arena of the war”

Those are just a first-cut sampling of what I found doing a Google
search for: "causes of famine" 

Hope this added to your understanding –

Subject: Re: Why do people live in the desert?
From: djscram-ga on 31 May 2002 11:53 PDT
Good answers, and, having grown up in the Mojave, i think there's
truth in all of it.  Of course, the question could also be, if there
was an ideal human early environment, why did people spread to less
habitable environments.  Theoretically it would be because at some
point it takes fewer resources to spread to the marginal land than to
compete for smaller space among many more competitors.
Of course once some learning curve is crossed, the desert dwellers
would find it easier to continue living in their known environment,
and even come to prefer all the intimate beauties that aren't apparent
to the casual visitor.
Subject: Re: Why do people live in the desert?
From: libraryman-ga on 01 Jun 2002 15:01 PDT
Many times people (by that I mean tribes) have been pushed into
marginal areas by more powerful groups or the climate has changed over
decades. I live in South Carolina, having moved here from a
cosmopolitan large city further south and there are numerous poverty
stricken, rather ugly small towns,across the state. Not all small
towns, understand, just some of them. Most of them are losing
population, but folks still like living there. Beats me why, but then,
its a matter of perspective. Some oases are very beautiful. Also,
these places tend to be occupied by deeply conservative, traditional
peoples. Why? You asked them, because we've always lived here in this
way as have our ancestors. Many deserts are strikingly beautiful. Not
all or even most deserts are rolling sand.
Perhaps you ought to visit some or read National Geographic to see the
differences. The world's largest desert is the Gobi Desert in
now that's a very harsh environment in the center of a continent with
extremes of heat and cold and very, very dry. Now, in the Atacama
Desert on the coast of Chile, people gather nitrates and it is a
rather large industry there. So, it all depends on where you are and
who you ask.

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