Un arbre seul au milieu du désert égyptien. Crédit ivabalk (Pixabay).

Is a forest in the desert a mirage or an oasis?


Egypt is an arid land which is made up of 96% sand where a forest just was planted in the middle of the desert. The forest called Serapium is supplied by wastewater. This is an initiative to combat desertification and poverty.

Egypt was pioneer in the fields of mathematics, chemistry, medicine or architecture and it has just developed a revolutionary process. The achievement is the creation of 200 hectares of greenery two hours away from Cairo.

Serapium is a forest in the desert

The story begins with a project launched in the nineties. The Serapium forest is the result of several years of investigations. Today it is a symbol of the collaboration between Egyptian and Western scientists. Those had to face to all desert issues such as a neutral soil, a complete lack of water and an extreme heat. All these factors have complicated the work of scientists. Egypt took such pain because it cannot support anymore the desertification of its lands and its population growth both at the same time. In addition to offer better living conditions for inhabitants, forest seems to be the best safeguard against the advancing desert.

The principle is based on two techniques. The first one is to use wastewater of cities around by partially decontaminating them. The main interest is to keep in this water phosphate, nitrogen and nitrate which are the main players of chemical fertilizers. Some call it “miracle water”. Early studies have shown that thanks to this water, some plants grow up from two to four times more quickly than in Europe. The second one is about the irrigation system. The wastewater from near drainage basin is conveyed to the forest through enormous tubes. Finally, water is distributed through small pipes in all the forest. This method allows us to distribute water while reducing losses. Thus, we can make savings. The first saving is that the clean water inhabitants need is not used and the second one is that this method allows us to use a less expensive water treatment.

An unexpected economic issue

Egypt is made up of 96% desert. In these conditions it is difficult to provide jobs for everyone. The unemployment rate of the country is about 13%. 25.2% of the population is living below the poverty line. These figures could improve through the creation of forests. The objective for Egypt is to create 650,000 hectares of forest.

The forest’s economic potential is incalculable, as the wood from its trees (particularly mahogany and eucalyptus) carry a significant additional benefit; the resultant environment provides a reserve of quality fodder for livestock, which could allow for the development of further activities in the forest.

Is Egypt an example to follow for Sahel?

Sahel region is facing the same issues resulting from the advancing desert. Since several years the idea of a “Great Green Wall” has been appearing. This is a huge project, which means creating a band of forest of 15 kilometres long and 7,600 kilometres wide. The significant water needs are complicating its implementation.

The Egyptian method is an interesting solution to water resource management. However, we also have to consider that such project requires a lot of investment. Contrary to Egypt, some unstable countries such as Mali do not have the resources necessary for such projects. Many other countries could follow this example in the aftermath of the COP22.

Banner photography: a single tree standing in the middle of the Egyptian desert. Credits ivabalk (Pixabay).

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