Major Landforms of Africa & the Middle East

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  • 0:00 Diverse Landforms
  • 0:30 Deserts and Water
  • 2:05 Mountains, Plateaus, & Valleys
  • 3:25 Grasses and Trees
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

If you look at satellite maps of Africa and the Middle East, it seems that the only thing they have in common are deserts. However, as this lesson proves, that is far from the actual case.

Diverse Landforms

If you look at a map, you might think that Africa has more types of major landforms than the Middle East. After all, when looking at the two regions from space, Africa alternates between bands of desert, grassland, and forest, while the Middle East is relatively a uniform shade of desert tan. However, they have a lot more in common than deserts. Africa and the Middle East have deserts, rivers, river valleys, highlands, valleys, plateaus, and areas of vegetation. Both the Middle East and Africa share struggles related to water availability in desert regions.

Deserts and Water, or Lack Thereof

You've probably heard by now that the Sahara Desert in northern Africa is the world's biggest desert. It is about the size of the United States, and it is relatively barren. Barren, that is, with one noticeable exception. At the far eastern edge of the desert, a river snakes through the red land of the desert. This river, the Nile River, is the world's longest river, and it allows more than 80 million people to live in Egypt alone. Clearly, the Nile makes life possible in Egypt.

Of course, the Nile is not the only important river in Africa and the Middle East, nor is the Sahara the only important desert. In the Middle East, the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers supported the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations like the Sumerians, and the river valley remains an important source of water and transportation for the people of Iraq. On the drier end of things, the Syrian and Arabian deserts have kept much of the Middle East arid.

Rivers are much more common in Africa, with the Congo, Niger, and Zambezi rivers draining a large amount of the continent. Africa also has another major desert: the Kalahari Desert, which covers much of Southern Africa.

Water is also important on the African Savanna, where life is defined as part of a wet season or a dry season, and local farmers have to adjust their crops accordingly. And in desert communities where there are no rivers flowing, the presence of an oasis can mean survival or doom.

Mountains, Plateaus, and Valleys

Many of those rivers have their sources in the numerous highlands of Africa and the Middle East. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers both rise in the highlands of eastern Turkey and western Iran, the Taurus Mountains. Likewise, the Nile also rises in the highlands of Ethiopia and the Great Lakes region of Southeastern Africa.

Mountains also make fertile land possible where none would be otherwise. In the northwestern corner of Africa, the Atlas Mountains cause rain to fall, while at the same time contribute to the dryness of the Sahara Desert. The same effect is seen in Arabia, where the mountains of the Hijaz cause a fertile strip of land along the Red Sea.

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