2ATPPE5 Russia. 04th Feb, 2020. SAKHA REPUBLIC (YAKUTIA), RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 4, 2020: Valerjan Romanovski on his way from Oymyakon to Yakutsk at the temperature of -670C (-88.60F). A team from Poland have travelled the Oymyakon-Yakutsk route on bike and by foot. Valerjan Romanovski rode a bike for 361 km, and Piotr Marczewski walked 151 km in four days. They slept under the open sky and had neither hot water nor hot meals during their journey. Marcin Blenski/TASS Credit: ITAR-TASS News Agency/Alamy Live News

Living on the edge: The people living in the world’s most extreme habitats

Meet the people who are working and thriving in extreme situations – those who find themselves living on the edge.

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.

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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 would 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

Village of Araouane, north of Timbuktu, Mali (18°54' N, 3°31' W). In the Saharan region of Mali, 168 miles (270 km) north of Timbuktu, the village of Araouane stands on the great caravan route, once heavily traveled, linking the north of the country with Mauritania. Today it is best known for its collections of ancient manuscripts written in Arabic and local languages. Araouane's numerous wells, which contributed to its ancient prosperity, still attract nomad campers to its periphery. Little by little, however, its fortlike houses are being swallowed up by the harmattan, the desert wind, which is threatening to wipe out the village completely. The only defense against the advancing sands is the plantations all around the wells, and this is a method that is beginning to reap rewards in a region for which the situation is serious and urgent. Desertification is a worldwide problem, which affects one-third of the land belonging to emerging nations.
Village of Araouane, north of Timbuktu, Mali
© Getty Images

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

An ice-caked wooden house in the world's coldest inhabited place.
An ice-caked wooden house in the world’s coldest inhabited place.
© Getty Images

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

Aerial view of the city of Arica, Chile
Aerial view of the city of Arica, Chile
© Alamy

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

The smokestack of a refinery stands next to the Mantaro River in La Oroya, Peru.
The smokestack of a refinery stands next to the Mantaro River in La Oroya, Peru.
© Meridith Kohut/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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

Active volcano erupts on Tanna Island, Vanuatu.
Active volcano erupts on Tanna Island, Vanuatu.
© Alamy

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

Edinburgh, Tristan da Cunha. The remotest inhabited spot on Earth
Edinburgh, Tristan da Cunha. The remotest inhabited spot on Earth
© Shutterstock

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

Heavy traffic builds up at an intersection in Manila, Philippines on September 2, 2020
Heavy traffic builds up at an intersection in Manila, Philippines on September 2, 2020
© Getty Images

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

The village of Mawsynram is subject to the highest average rainfall on the planet.
The village of Mawsynram is subject to the highest average rainfall on the planet.
© Shutterstock

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

A general view of La Rinconada, the highest permanent settlement in the world
A general view of La Rinconada, the highest permanent settlement in the world
© Getty Images

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…

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