Dangers in the Desert

Dangers in the Desert

This page contains information on how to identify and avoid dangers in the desert in an emergency situation, especially dangers including sandstorms, mirages, scorpions, snakes, thorned plants and cacti, contaminated water, sunburn, eye irritation and climatic stress also you will find useful tips on how to recognize signs of water presence.
Your survival in the desert depends upon your ability to use the available survival equipment, and your special skills to apply them to cope with the hazards you face as well as your will to survive. But most importantly your ability to improvise, because every survival situation is different, so think and improvise by taking advantage of what you have available to you.

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Desert Dangers

In a desert survival situation, you should take extra care to avoid heat injuries. Rest during the day. Work during the cool evenings and nights. Use a buddy system to watch for heat injury. There are some hazards unique to desert survival. These include insects (like scorpions), snakes, thorned plants and cacti, contaminated water, sunburn, eye irritation and climatic stress. Insects of almost every type abound in the desert. Humans, as a source of water and food, attract lice, mites, wasps and flies as a result. They are extremely unpleasant and may carry diseases.

Old buildings, ruins and caves are favorite habitats of spiders, scorpions, centipedes, lice and mites. These areas provide protection from the elements and they also attract other wildlife. Therefore, take extra care when staying in these areas. Make sure to wear gloves at all times in the desert. Do not place your hands anywhere without first looking to see what is there. Visually inspect an area before sitting or lying down. When you get up, shake out and inspect your shoes and clothing. All desert areas have snakes and scorpions. They inhabit ruins, dead trees, native villages, garbage dumps, caves and natural rock outcroppings that offer shade. Never go barefoot or walk through these areas without carefully inspecting them for snakes. Pay attention to where you place your feet and hands. Most snakebites result from stepping on or handling snakes. Avoid them at all times.

In a desert area there are many environmental factors that you must consider:

  1. Dangerous insects and snakes
  2. Low rainfall.
  3. Intense sunlight and heat.
  4. Wide and Fast temperature range.
  5. Sparse vegetation.
  6. High mineral content.
  7. Sandstorms.
  8. Mirages.
  9. Need for water

Danger of Scorpions

You find scorpions in in many areas including deserts. They are mostly nocturnal. Scorpions typically brown or black in moist areas, however in the desert they may be yellow or light green. Their average size is about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch). Fatalities from scorpion stings are rare, but do occur with children, the elderly, and ill persons. Scorpions resemble small lobsters with raised, jointed tails bearing a stinger in the tip.

A bite from a scorpion may cause swelling, pain, nausea, fever, and even speech and breathing difficulties. Obviously the more allergic the person is to these venoms, the more drastic is the reaction. Children are more susceptible than adults, but as mentioned earlier, death due to scorpion bites occurs rarely and then only in extreme cases. Anyone bitten by these insects should be taken to a doctor immediately. First aid should consist of an application of an ice pack, ice water, or simply a chunk of ice to the bitten area. The bitten person should be kept calm. The heart beat and pulse of an excited person are much faster than normal, hence the venom spreads much more quickly. The bitten person should not walk more than necessary.

Low Rainfall Dangers

No or low rainfall is the most obvious environmental factor in an arid area. Some desert areas receive less than 10 centimeters (4 inches) of rain annually, and this rain comes in brief torrents that quickly run off the ground surface. You cannot survive long without water in high desert temperatures. In a desert survival situation, you must first consider the amount of water you have and other water sources.

Intense Sunlight and Heat Dangers

Intense sunlight and heat are present in all arid areas. Air temperature can rise as high as 60 degrees C (140 degrees F) during the day. Heat gain results from direct sunlight, hot blowing sand-laden winds, reflective heat (the sun's rays bouncing off the sand), and conductive heat from direct contact with the desert sand and rock.

Intense sunlight and heat increase the body's need for water. To conserve your body fluids and energy, you will need a shelter to reduce your exposure to the heat of the day. Travel at night to lessen your use of water.

Wide and Fast Temperature Range Dangers

Temperatures in arid areas may get as high as 55 degrees C (130 degrees F) during the day and as low as 10 degrees C (50 degrees F) during the night. The drop in temperature at night occurs rapidly and will chill a person who lacks warm clothing and is unable to move about. The cool evenings and nights are the best times to work or travel. If your plan is to rest at night, you will find a wool sweater, long underwear, and a wool stocking cap extremely helpful.

Sparse Vegetation Dangers

Vegetation is sparse in arid areas. You will therefore have trouble finding shelter. Use the shadows cast from brush, rocks, or outcroppings. The temperature in shaded areas will be 11 to 17 degrees C (52 to 63 degrees F) cooler than the air temperature.

Hight Mineral Soil Content

All arid regions have areas where the surface soil has a high mineral content (borax, salt, alkali, and lime). Material in contact with this soil wears out quickly, and water in these areas is extremely hard and undrinkable. Wetting your uniform in such water to cool off may cause a skin rash. The Great Salt Lake area in Utah is an example of this type of mineral-laden water and soil. There is little or no plant life; therefore, shelter is hard to find. Avoid these areas if possible.

Sandstorms Dangers

Sandstorms (sand-laden winds) occur frequently in most deserts. The Seistan desert wind in Iran and Afghanistan blows constantly for up to 120 days. Within Saudi Arabia, winds typically range from 3.2 to 4.8 kilometers per hour (kph) (2 to 3 miles per hour [mph]) and can reach 112 to 128 kph (67 to 77 mph) in early afternoon. Expect major sandstorms and dust storms at least once a week. The greatest danger is getting lost in a swirling wall of sand. Wear goggles and cover your mouth and nose with cloth. If natural shelter is unavailable, mark your direction of travel, lie down, and sit out the storm.

Dangers of Mirages

Mirages are optical phenomena caused by the refraction of light through heated air rising from a sandy or stony surface. They occur in the interior of the desert about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the coast. They make objects that are 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) or more away appear to move. This mirage effect makes it difficult for you to identify an object from a distance. It also blurs distant range contours so much that you feel surrounded by a sheet of water from which elevations stand out as "islands."

The mirage effect makes it hard for a person to identify targets, estimate range, and see objects clearly. However, if you can get to high ground (3 meters [10 feet] or more above the desert floor), you can get above the superheated air close to the ground and overcome the mirage effect. Mirages make land navigation difficult because they obscure natural features. You can survey the area at dawn, dusk, or by moonlight when there is little likelihood of mirage.

Lack of Water Dangers

A key factor in desert survival is understanding the relationship between physical activity, air temperature, and water consumption. The body requires a certain amount of water for a certain level of activity at a certain temperature. For example, a person performing hard work in the sun at 43 degrees C (109 degrees F) requires 19 liters (5 gallons) of water daily. Lack of the required amount of water causes a rapid decline in an individual's ability to make decisions and to perform tasks efficiently.

Heat Cramps Risks

The loss of salt due to excessive sweating causes heat cramps. Symptoms are moderate to severe muscle cramps in legs, arms, or abdomen. These symptoms may start as a mild muscular discomfort. You should now stop all activity, get in the shade, and drink water. If you fail to recognize the early symptoms and continue your physical activity, you will have severe muscle cramps and pain. Treat as for heat exhaustion, below.

Heat Exhaustion Dangers

A large loss of body water and salt causes heat exhaustion. Symptoms are headache, mental confusion, irritability, excessive sweating, weakness, dizziness, cramps, and pale, moist, cold (clammy) skin. Immediately get the patient under shade. Make him lie on a stretcher or similar item about 45 centimeters (18 inches) off the ground. Loosen his clothing. Sprinkle him with water and fan him. Have him drink small amounts of water every 3 minutes. Ensure he stays quiet and rests.

Heat Stroke Causes and Dangers

An extreme loss of water and salt and your body's inability to cool itself can cause heat stroke. The patient may die if not cooled immediately. Symptoms are the lack of sweat, hot and dry skin, headache, dizziness, fast pulse, nausea and vomiting, and mental confusion leading to unconsciousness. Immediately get the person to shade. Lay him on a stretcher or similar item about 45 centimeters (18 inches) off the ground. Loosen his clothing. Pour water on him (it does not matter if the water is polluted or brackish) and fan him. Massage his arms, legs, and body. If he regains consciousness, let him drink small amounts of water every 3 minutes.

Precautions in the Desert

The above dangers can be reduced or avoided altogether if some precautions are taken. Follow these measures, they can save your life:

  • Make sure you tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
  • Watch for signs of heat injury. If someone complains of tiredness or wanders away from the group, he may be a heat casualty.
  • Drink water at least once an hour.
  • Get in the shade when resting; do not lie directly on the ground.
  • Do not take off your shirt and work during the day.
  • Check the color of your urine. A light color means you are drinking enough water, a dark color means you need to drink more.

How to Avoid Snakebites

Dangers in the Desert

Some species of snakes have specialized glands that contain a toxic venom, and long, hollow fangs to inject their venom. Although venomous snakes use their venom to secure food, they also use it for self-defense. Human accidents occur when you don't see or hear the snake, when you step on them, or when you walk too close to them. Follow these simple rules to reduce the chance of accidental snakebite:

  • Don't sleep next to brush, tall grass, large boulders, or trees. They provide hiding places for snakes. Place your sleeping bag in a clearing.
  • Use mosquito netting tucked well under the bag. This netting should provide a good barrier.
  • Don't put your hands into dark places, such as rock crevices, heavy brush, or hollow logs, without first investigating.
  • Don't step over a fallen tree. Step on the log and look to see if there is a snake resting on the other side.
  • Don't walk through heavy brush or tall grass without looking down. Look where you are walking.
  • Don't pick up any snake unless you are absolutely positive it is not venomous.
  • Don't pick up freshly killed snakes without first severing the head. The nervous system may still be active and a dead snake can deliver a bite.

More information: We hope this page was helpful and provided you with some information on how to identify and avoid dangers in the desert. Check out our main page for more survival scenarios here Survival Guide, knowledge is light, and knowledge can save your life. Make sure you do your best to know what to do in a survival situation and then hope for the best.

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