This Is Not a PaintingS

It looks like brushstrokes - it could almost be a Turner - but this is actually nature at its most dramatic. This snapshot from the European Space Agency's MERIS satellite shows the Tibesti mountains that straddle northern Chad and southern Libya - though a picture like this makes it easy to forget that borders exist.

The mountains, in blue and black at the centre, are a range of volcanoes. The grey and black peak in the bottom right is Emi Koussi, the tallest mountain in Chad at 3415 metres high. There aren't any recorded instances of any of the Tibesti volcanoes erupting, though Toussid‚, the black spot on the far left, does have a reputation for spewing gases and creating hot springs in its crater floor. The white regions are accumulations of carbonate salts, while the orange is desert.

For all their beauty from overhead, plant life is sparse on these mountains, known locally as the "Mountains of Hunger" because they feed so few people. The semi-nomadic Toubou people inhabit the region as salt miners and date and grain farmers, while some cheetahs, gazelles and sheep do roam the region.

Life expectancy in Chad is the lowest in the world at 48 years. An estimated 210,000 people are living with HIV and AIDS - 3.4 per cent of the population - while malaria, typhoid fever and hepatitis A are all major health problems. Thirty-four per cent of under-5s are underweight, and it has the worst maternal mortality rate of any nation. It's also home to 280,000 refugees from the Darfur conflict across the border in Sudan.

Rebellions frequently flare up in Chad, the most recent resulting in a four-year civil war that ended in 2010. Violent conflicts with Libya and Sudan have also plagued an already crippled country. Only from orbit do the borders not seem to matter.

Image by ESA/Envisat


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