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There are several, often conflicting, views of what is a desert. In the 1973 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary its definition of deserts included the phrase ‘dry, parched, withered, hence uninteresting’. This somewhat belied the romantic notions in the western world inspired by, among others, Wilfred Thesiger and T. E. Lawrence. At about this time desert regions became very ‘interesting’, gaining a greater significance with the rising price of oil fostering a development boom in many oil-rich countries, especially in the Middle East.

During this period early western designed and controlled building and construction projects in the Middle East began to fall foul of a number of geotechnical hazards little understood by professionals whose previous experience had been gained in the temperate regions of the world. Traditional, locally developed techniques were neglected or ignored, as had reported knowledge from valuable experience in the field (Bagnold 1941).

Over the last 30 years considerable understanding and experience has been gained of the geomorphological processes and ground characteristics peculiar to desert regions, and their effects on design and construction. Many innovative engineering techniques have been developed and employed, and information on these advances is now widely disseminated in the technical literature.

The report of a Geological Society of London Working Party on Tropical Residual Soils (Fookes 1990, 1997) was the first to consider a particular environment as the focus for an engineering geological handbook. As a natural successor in this approach, this Working Party report on engineering works in

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