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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Touring the World's Great Deserts

What do you get when you put a Russian geographer, two physicians, two ecologists, two journalists and a television crew in the middle of some of the world's most desolate places?

Well, frankly, it's difficult to say.

The departure of just such an alliance last week on an expedition to deserts near the Caspian Sea was either a bold effort to document a burgeoning global phenomenon -- or a well-cloaked bit of confusion.

The premise of the tour, officially called the World's Great Deserts, is to enlighten mankind by videotaping the desertification of the Earth and to conduct experiments that might uncover ways to curb the process.

"One of the most serious problems affecting the ecology of our planet is desertification ... The next 10 years are going to be very dangerous for territories that are normally known as fertile," said Igor Chernysh, of Moscow, the geographer and leader of the expedition.

Yet conspicuously absent from the group's literature and press conference was a compelling argument in support of the scientific facet of the tour. Moreover, the scientists' goals appear to be of a disparate, even haphazard nature with no designated outlets in the realms of utility and publication.

One aspect, however, was clear: Employees of RTR Russian Television will record footage in anticipation of a series of three documentaries -- which the TV station will also broadcast.

"It's not a commercial thing. We are not expecting money," insists Alpha Diallo, 31, a journalist from Guinea who has been living in Moscow for eight years. "But everyone will have their own satisfaction."

About 90 people, including ambassadors to Russia from Chad and Jordan, gathered last month for a press conference at the Bulgarian Cultural Center in Moscow for free-flowing speeches, food and alcohol.

Also present was a representative from the Russian committee of the United Nations Environmental Program, which has lent its full support to the expedition. The Russian branch of the International Red Cross, too, has endorsed the tour, according to Diallo.

The team presently assembled will return to Moscow in December, then embark in three vehicles, donated by sponsors, to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, South America, North America and eastern Russia. This second leg of the tour, with periodic rests in Moscow, is scheduled to conclude in late 1998.

"One of the major goals is not to just pass through the deserts, but to [follow] the perimeters to check how they are growing up and what people are doing to stop them," Diallo said. "We'll bring many things just to test if they will be useful in the future."

Among the items slated for experimentation are military-issue tents, donated by the Russian army, which are composed of metallic tissue designed to keep occupants cool at high temperatures and warm at low temperatures. The team will also test the effectiveness of a device created to extract water from air, according to Diallo.

Two all-terrain vehicles were donated by GAZ and a four-wheel-drive jeep, too, was provided by Volkswagen, Diallo said. A small plane was donated by a businessman for portions of the expedition.

Diallo said the three documentaries will be entitled "The Desert and Society," which examines how human beings create deserts and subsequently become refugees in their own countries; "Man of the Deserts," which shows the cultural and religious lifestyles of humans in arid climates; and "History of the Deserts," which chronicles the civilizations of old and new deserts in addition to their geographies, animals and plant life.

Lest anyone doubt the veracity of the expedition, however, Diallo stresses: "We have tents. We are not going to stay in town. We are not going to stay at the Hilton."