Investment (of a more formal kind than remittances)
has a less certain trajectory. Inward investment
was the strongest driver of change in deserts in the recent past. Most went to the extraction of
oil, gas, iron, uranium, phosphates, nitrates, and
copper, among other minerals. Even if no new
reserves of oil are discovered, deserts contain
a high percentage of global reserves, and this
implies continued investment, if at a lower rate.
Rising prices may maintain the income from older
investments. Investment in gas is newer, and will
probably increase. Iron ore contributes 40 per cent
of Mauritania's export income; desert Western
Australia contributed 16 per cent of the world's
production of iron in 2003. Both will probably
maintain their position, although iron prices
fluctuate wildly. One-third of known recoverable
global reserves of uranium are in Australia, but
none of its desert reserves is currently mined.
Namibia has about six per cent of known global
recoverable reserves, and the Namibian mine is the
only desert uranium mine currently in production. A
global move to nuclear electricity generation would
encourage the reopening of other reserves, as in
Kazakhstan, Niger, and northern Chad (over which
Chad and Libya went to war in 1987). North Africa
(largely its deserts) holds about one-third of world
reserves of phosphate.
Desert tourism, another source of investment, has
grown quickly. Four million tourists visit Morocco
and five million reach Tunisia each year. They
contributed six per cent to Tunisian gross domestic
product in 1999, and employed over 300 000
people. Desert destinations in both countries
outperformed their coasts. There was a 161 per
cent increase in tourism to Egypt in 2005. Dubai
claims to be the world's fastest growing tourist
destination; 100 000 British people have bought
homes there, and it is aiming at 15 million tourist
visits a year. Baja California is booming. More
gambling is said to take place in deserts than in
any other global environment. The upward trends
may continue in some places, although some
markets must be nearing saturation. If the past is a
guide, the pattern of development will be patchy.
The steady growth in short trips, as to the U.S.
deserts, is less likely to falter. They attract less
investment, and probably generate less income,
but involve more people. An estimated 800 000
people a year, and as many as 80 000 on a single
weekend, already visit the Algodones Dunes
in California, many to go dune buggying. The
"Burning Man", a week-long cultural festival with
international draw, is held annually on the playa of
the Black Rock Desert in Nevada (Figure 5.3).
Large, cheap sites, which are superabundant
in deserts, are a further source of investment
(generally by the state). It is not only these
qualities that attract this investment: it is also
distance from prying eyes and air-borne attack,
and freedom from planning objections. All this
allows deserts to be used for purposes that
would be difficult or even unimaginable in other
regions; the first nuclear bomb was tested at La
Jornada del Muerto in New Mexico in 1945; the U.S. plans to store nuclear waste in about 600
square kilometres of Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
The French tested their nuclear bombs at Reggane
in the Sahara and the British at Woomera in
the Australian desert (a reserved area of about
127 000 km2), where Australian nuclear waste is
now stored. Later came Lop Nur in the Chinese
desert (about 100 000 km2), the Kharan Desert
in western Pakistan, and Pokhran in desert India.
Military training takes place in the Mojave Desert,
the Omani Desert and the Negev Desert in Israel.
Russia, China, Japan, and the United States have
space-flight installations in the desert (Figure 5.4).
Low-cost space in the California deserts is used to
park huge numbers of unused aeroplanes. There
are prisons in many deserts; Woomera is used to
hold refugees, and the European Union is said to
be planning a holding station for refugees in the
North African desert. These intrusions import many
people into deserts, generate considerable income,
and help to upgrade infrastructure, but have large
environmental footprints, particularly with respect
to water. In an insecure and competitive world, this
kind of investment will continue, even grow.