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GCSE Geography | Opportunities in the Thar Desert (Hot Deserts 3)

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

Last updated 1 Dec 2023

The Thar Desert stretches across north-west India and into Pakistan, covering approximately 200,000 km² (which is slightly smaller than the UK). It is mostly in the Indian state of Rajasthan and is the most densely populated desert in the world.

Despite the harsh environment, the Thar Desert offers many opportunities for economic development.

Mineral extraction in the Thar Desert

The Thar Desert has an abundance of minerals - these are used all over India and exported right across the globe, so are an important source of income. These valuable minerals include gypsum, which used in making plaster for the construction industry and in making cement; feldspar, which is used to make ceramics; phospherite, which is used for making fertiliser; and kaolin which used as a whitener in paper.

There are also many different stone reserves here - the Thar Desert is the main source of limestone for India’s steel industry, as well as having valuable reserves of marble which is used in the construction industry.

Energy development in the Thar Desert

There are many sources of energy in the Thar Desert. There is a large oilfield, as well as extensive lignite coal deposits. India currently generates around 75% of electricity through burning coal, but as the country has signed up to global carbon reduction agreements, it needs to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

Fortunately the Thar Desert offers huge potential for renewable energy production, particularly wind and solar power. The vast open space means that the landscape is exposed with nothing to reduce windspeeds - as a result the desert is home to the Jaisalmer Wind Park, which is India's biggest wind farm. The sunny cloudless skies of the Thar Desert also means that it is the ideal location to generate solar power.

Farming in the Thar Desert

As is the case across many NEEs like India, most of the people living in the Thar Desert are subsistence farmers, meaning they farm small-scale and only grow enough food for their families, rather than growing food to sell. They survive in the harsh environment by grazing animals on peripheral grassland, and grow vegetables and fruit trees where they can.

However there has been growth in commercial farming, which is down to the ability to irrigate such an arid landscape. In the late 1950s the Indira Ghandi Canal was built, which revolutionised farming in the Thar Desert. Farmers are now able to cultivate wheat and cotton in an area that was previously infertile scrubland. Irrigation has meant that farmers can also grow pulses, sesame, maize amongst many other crops. This growth in agriculture is important as the Thar Desert is the most densely populated desert in the world.

Tourism in the Thar Desert

The Thar Desert has amazing scenery, and despite it’s inaccessibility in places and extreme temperatures, it has become a popular tourist destination. Every year tens of thousands of people visit, particularly from neighbouring Pakistan and elsewhere in India. One of the biggest attractions are the camel safaris on offer from Jaisalmer – these are popular with overseas visitors as well as wealthy Indians. There is also a Desert Festival held every winter – this is extremely popular and draws in crowds from far and wide. It is really important for the local economy and generates a huge multiplier effect where local people benefit by providing food and accommodation, providing produce for local restaurants, selling souvenirs to tourists, and by acting as guides or rearing and looking after the camels.

Opportunities in the Thar Desert | AQA GCSE | Hot Deserts 3

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