David Attenborough’s documentary Extinction: The Facts investigates what biodiversity loss and extinction mean not just for the planet but for our future as a species.
The destruction caused by fire, hunting and climate change has pushed an estimated one million different species to the brink of extinction, each living under circumstances that evolution had not prepared them for. Seeing the shocking scenes in Extinction: The Facts got us thinking about what that life could be like.
Here, we meet the people who are already working, and sometimes thriving, in extreme situations – those who find themselves living on the edge.
Hottest place – Araouane, Sudan
Short of moving into an oven, we think this place might well be the hottest inhabited place on Earth. Surrounded by barren desert, hideous sandstorms know as ‘harmattan’ and no rain to speak of, the 300 inhabitants of this village can bake in average summer temperatures of 46ºC. However, as an important transport hub for the mining and transportation of salt, it’s a sweaty job but clearly someone’s got to do it.
Coldest place – Oymyakon, Sakha Republic, Russia
The village of Oymyakon, two days drive from the city of Yakutsk, is regarded as the coldest permanently inhabited settlement on Earth. 500 brave souls call this frozen landscape home, putting up with average winter temperatures of -50ºC and only 3 hours of daylight in the winter.
In the town square, a monument commemorates the lowest temperature recorded there; a positively chilly -71.2ºC that was measured in 1924.
Despite this, summer temperatures have been known to reach 34ºC . So if you are thinking of taking a holiday there, better pack a swimsuit and about 6 coats…
Driest place – Arica, Chile, Atacama Desert
In some parts of the Atacama Desert rain hasn’t fallen for 500 years, which by any stretch is quite a dry spell. The nearby city of Arica (Chile) is the driest city on Earth, and on average only sees 0.761 mm of rainfall per year.
These eye-watering figures haven’t stopped the population growing to over 220,000, mainly due to its importance as a port city, being next to the Pan-American Highway and its thriving fruit industries located in the nearby valleys of Azapa and Lluta.
Most Polluted Place – La Oroya, Peru
Life really is pretty awful for the 25,000 or so inhabitants in this city in central Peru, with dangerously high quantities of arsenic, lead and sulphur dioxide in the air, and acid rain destroying vegetation in the surrounding areas.
La Oroya is home to a smelting operation owned by Doe Run Peru, the city’s main employer, and produces metals such as gold, silver, bismuth and cadmium amongst others.
It was recognised to be one of the most polluted places to live on Earth by the Blacksmith Institute in 2007, but efforts are being made to clean up the area and make things a lot better for the residents.
Riskiest Place – Vanuatu, South Pacific Ocean
Fancy dodging deadly active volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis on a daily basis? Then why not head over to Pacific Islands of Vanuatu, the riskiest place to live according to the UN’s World Risk Index.
Satellite data shows that sea levels have risen about 6mm per year around Vanuatu since 1993, and the average temperature is set to rise 1ºC by 2030 due to climate change.
If that’s not bad enough, in April 2020, the island was hit by Tropical Cyclone Harold, its worst in 5 years, with wind speeds reaching up to 250 kph. This is not the place for a nice quiet holiday, that’s for sure.
Most Isolated Place – Tristan de Cunha, South Atlantic
Situated in the South Atlantic Ocean, this tiny group of remote islands is home to 246 residents. Its isolation isn’t helped by the fact that it doesn’t have a strip of land big enough to land a plane on.
The only way on and off is by boat, and that in itself is a 6-day trip from South Africa, some 1511 miles away. No matter what Snoop Dogg reckons, I think Just Eat would draw the line at delivering here.
Most Population-Dense Place – Manila, Philippines
It’s incredibly hard to definitively know what the most population-dense place on Earth is. But with a staggering population density estimated to be 120,000 per square mile, Manila is certainly up there near the top of the charts.
A thriving port has led to a rapid economic development over the last 50 years, which has in turn resulted in population growth and a rise in pollution and chronic traffic problems. To cap things off, there is also a huge shortage in housing, which has led to a lot of overcrowding. Not the place to live if you fancy the quiet life.
Wettest place – Mawsynram, Northeastern India
There is some dispute as the where the dampest place on Earth actually is. Mawsynram is listed as the place with the highest average rainfall by the Guinness Book of Records, but it’s nearby neighbour Cherrapunji still holds the all-time record for the most rainfall in a calendar month and over the course of a year.
What’s not in dispute though is the fact that you would find it very difficult to get your washing dry in either location.
Highest Place on Earth – La Rinconada, Peru
Incredibly, on top of Mount Ananea in the Peruvian Andes lives 50,000 or so brave souls who call La Rinconada home, 16,700 feet about sea-level. Why so many people? Call it a modern day gold-rush, with inhabitants battling over anything they can find in the unregulated mines in the nearby mountains.
If this sounds like a place the adventurer in you might want to visit, I would suggest you would be better off elsewhere . This town has no hotels and can take days to reach via a gravel road. Plus altitude sickness tends to kick in at about 10,000 feet, so you might find yourself a tad short of breath. Those La Riconadans sure must be tough…
- Extinction: The Facts is available on BBC iPlayer