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The Mighty Forces of Nature

DROUGHT

 

 


The Demise of a Once-Fertile Desert Wetlands Ecosystem

The Hamoun Wetlands once covered some 800 square miles in Central Asia.  They were comprised of a diversity of habitats, including freshwater lakes and marshes.  During spring flooding, the wetlands area would almost double in size. 

For thousands of years, these wetlands had provided food and shelter for a great variety of wildlife and for migrating birds on their long journeys.  Nomad tribes survived long journeys through the desert by stopping at the places where water was available.  Trails developed along the way from oasis to oasis throughout the land.
 

Plants and animals thrived in and around the Hamoun Wetlands, and people settled in the area to fish and hunt and grow vegetables, grains, and fruit. The Hamoun was a true oasis in the middle of vast areas of arid desert plains.



As the population of people grew in and around the wetlands, more and more water was diverted for irrigation for farms and towns, and large dams were built by changing governments that took water from the upper reaches of the river. 


Even then, the wetlands were still able to survive and continue to maintain the plants, animals and humans that depended on them.

Then the area suffered some periods of drought that brought on some temporary dry conditions until rains would finally come and revive the Helmand River again.  In 1998, drought conditions came back with a vengeance and the lack of rain persisted for a long period, to the point where the Hamoun Wetlands began to dry up.  Species died, unless they were able to leave the area and find food and shelter elsewhere. Migrating birds were no longer able to stop over and refresh themselves on their long trips.  Farms dried up and the soils blew away as dust.  Hot desert winds blew sand and salt from the dry lake beds, and covered the villages and farms.  The people who had fished and farmed in the area for generations had to move away in order to survive. 


The great wetlands of the Hamoun deteriorated into an arid wasteland
of salt flats, unable to support much life. 

Because these regions had been in turmoil for many, many years, with wars and conflicts among people, no scientists and conservation organizations had been able to go into the area to see what was happening to the environment and the wetlands.  Satellite pictures provided by NASA have now shown the shocking demise of the Hamoun Wetlands.  It is thought that the persistent drought conditions, along with the weakening of the wetlands system (from increased irrigation, urban development, and 98% decline of water in the lower regions from damming the water in upper regions) caused too much of a shock over a 30-year period for the wetlands to recover.  Now, about all that is left is salt flats and some patches of dying reeds in mudholes here and there.
 

Return to Wetlands Loss

or continue to Wetlands Recovery
where you can learn about what is being done to restore our wetlands.

Including a section on the Florida Everglades -
a very unique and important ecosystem in peril!
 

The Florida Panther and the Manatee are two very endangered animals
that have greatly declined in numbers due to human activities in Florida.
Florida is another state that has suffered severe damage from hurricanes.

 


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