Drawing-up a map is the indispensable starting point for any research activity aimed towards promoting environmental policy actions. In order to ensure the effectiveness of such interventions, it is necessary to equip ourselves with a tool capable of highlighting the progressive soil deterioration occurring all over the world, as a consequence of urban and industrial development, global warming and non-sustainable agricultural activities.
For this purpose, with the Atlas of Saharan and Arabian Oases Project the LabOasis Foundation has identified 775 traditional Oases – geo-referencing them on an interactive map which spans over the borders of 11 national states – and makes it available online. For the first time we are able to view in its entirety the constellation of Oases which has for centuries performed the task of mitigating the climate, a green defence-line crossing two deserts, a stronghold of civilisation in places where survival would appear impossible. Collected by Gismap, the data referring to geographic information has been elaborated using GIS, Remote Sensing and DBMS Open Source, in collaboration with experts from scientific bodies of different countries, especially Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Tunisia. Applying our selection criteria, we located the many different settlements. We are thus able to observe changes in size occurring in the Oases, to detect silting up processes now mostly due to the decrease of water resources and to witness – however indirectly – the attachment of local communities to places made progressively inhospitable by global warming, a distinctive trait of many such communities, who clearly buck the trend of emigration as a forced choice.
The current version of the Atlas of Saharan and Arabian Oases, which shall be further developed in order to attain progressively more exhaustive classifications, is intended to provide a starting point for comparative studies of social-environmental changes in that vast area of the world characterised by extreme aridity. Studies which are necessary to elaborate those pilot interventions, which are able to implement appropriate prevention and mitigation measures, extendable to other Oases where people are facing similar emergencies. In order to document and assess the studies and the various “on the ground” projects carried out in the last 30 years – in different sectors, but all equally vital for the economy of such communities – LabOasis Foundation has also launched the Oases Database Project, linking it to the Atlas of Saharan and Arabian Oases: for each Oasis located on the map, users can access information about past, or on-going, projects and acquire details about the actors and local associations engaged in such activities.
When consulting the Database sheet, available when the Oasis – via Google Maps – is located on the Atlas map, it can be noted that many actions fostered by institutional agents, research centres and international associations, have converged in the same areas: the most accessible and famous Oases. The interactive exploration, conducted via the Atlas of Saharan and Arabian Oases, enables a deeper understanding of the local context, and the discovery of smaller and lesser-known Oases – a first step towards the formulation of intervention strategies applicable also to areas considered, until recently, to be marginal. Such areas are, in fact, home to several Oases, sitting on the edge of porous national borders drawn across the desert. These are settlements inhabited by ancient communities preserving unique hospitality traditions, indigenous culture and extraordinary historic landscapes, which not only act as a stronghold against climate change but also offer a precious contribution to the safety of the Mediterranean region, counteracting the dominance of criminal organisations in those vast uninhabited areas.
Many are, therefore, the research projects and subsequent safeguard actions we hope will be carried out on the basis of the new evidence provided by the Atlas of Saharan and Arabian Oases and the Database, notwithstanding LabOasis Foundation’s intention to contribute to their update in collaboration with experts and scholars from all around the world and, most importantly, with the ever-more needed participation of the Oases’ inhabitants.