Egypt’s population is estimated to be a staggering 85 million inhabitants and is mostly concentrated in and around the valley of the Nile River, using up 5.5 % of Egypt’s one million sq.km area (the size of Texas and California together, twice the size of Spain, & 4 times the size of the UK). The other 94.5% of the area is simply untouched desert.
In efforts to make use of Egypt’s untouched land, several projects have surfaced with various solutions on how to urbanize Egypt’s desert. One of these promising projects comes from Egypt’s scientist and the Director of the Center of Space Physics and Remote Sensing of Boston University Farouk El-Baz. He previously said that Egypt has underground water resources that could easily serve the country for the next century. The statement was delivered to an international symposium on the role of satellite technology in reducing technology gaps, organized by the National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences.
“There are many underground water reservoirs in the Western Sahara that are 25,000 years old” said Al-Baz.
While satellite images can detect signs of possible underground water basins, however, they cannot definitively confirm their existence nor can they determine if the water is fit for human consumption. He called for constructing a specific satellite that works with sensors and radar applications to detect groundwater, minerals and antiquities buried beneath the desert surface. Al-Baz added that “Egyptian scientists are qualified for this task”.
Desert Development Corridor: Into the Sahara (A new Valley parallel to the Nile’s)
Farouk El-Baz proposes a superhighway to solve Egypt’s pressing problems
This article advances the case for a proposed superhighway west of the Nile from the Mediterranean Sea coastline to the southern borders at Lake Nasser. The proposal would provide numerous opportunities for the development of new communities, agriculture, industry, trade and tourism around a 2,000 km strip of the Western Desert. The ex-governments of Egypt were unable or unwilling to pursue the project, when Al-Baz proposed it 20 years ago, for unclear reasons. Because the country is presently facing insurmountable problems, the proposal is resubmitted for consideration by the private sector — local, Arab and international investors
Adequate transportation routes and mechanisms are essential to ever-increasing development. From the time of establishing the Egyptian State over 5,000 years ago, the Nile served as a mechanism to transport people, news, products, armies and tax collector — all aspects of a unified, sustainable state. Similarly, the Greek, Roman and Arab civilization assured the ease and security of travel within the boundaries of their vast territories. More recently, European development was greatly assisted by the ease of transportation at the rise of Western Civilizations. It is also clear that superb transportation systems allowed the United States to better utilize its vast natural resources to reach its present position of prominence.
It is not possible to foresee establishment of a modern network of transportation systems within the confines of the Nile Valley and its Delta, because that would reduce agricultural land. The fertile soil within the inhabited strip of Egypt was deposited by the Nile River over millions of years, and it is irreplaceable. In the meantime, the growth of population negates the potential of continuing to live on and utilize only five per cent of the land area of Egypt. Thus, it is imperative to open new vistas for expansion outside of the inhabited strip. This proposal provides an innovative solution to the numerous problems that face Egypt today.
In addition to facilitating transport throughout Egypt, the proposed superhighway would limit urban encroachment over agricultural land and opens thousands of opportunities for new communities not far from the over-populated towns. It also affords unlimited potential for new schools and training centers, industrial zones, trade centers, tourism; providing virgin territory for development initiatives in every field. This in itself gives hope to the new generations of Egyptians for a better future. It represents the best possible use of one of Egypt’s natural resources — the strip of the Western Desert that parallels the Nile and is close to its high-density population centers.
This particular strip of land was chosen because of its unique natural characteristics. It is basically flat with a gentle northward slope from west of Aswan to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea; the lack of topographic prominences makes it easy to pave. This strip is also devoid of east-west crossing valleys that are prone to flashfloods as in the case of the Eastern Desert. It passes close to vast tracts of fertile soils that are amenable to reclamation; most of such regions have potential for groundwater resources. The strip is also comparatively free of sandy areas; it is not crossed by lines of shifting dunes as in the case of regions farther to the west. Furthermore, the region is endowed with plentiful sunlight and persistent northerly wind. These conditions allow the use of renewable solar and wind energy in the future.
Based on the above, the proposed project includes the establishment of the following:
- A superhighway to be built using the highest international standards, 1,200 km in length, from west of Alexandria to the southern border of Egypt,
- Twelve east-west branches, with the total length of approximately 800 km, to connect the highway to high-density population centers along the way,
- A railroad for fast transport parallel to the superhighway,
- A water pipeline from the Toshka Canal to supply freshwater, and
- An electricity line to supply energy during the early phases of development.
1- NORTH-SOUTH HIGHWAY
The main highway runs parallel to the Nile River from Egypt’s Mediterranean Sea coastline to its border with Sudan. Its distance from the Western side of the Nile Valley varies from 10 to 80 kilometers, based on the nature of the crossed land. It begins at a point between Alexandria and El-Alamein, perhaps near El-Hamman, to be selected for the establishment of a new international port. Egypt requires a technologically advanced port to serve future needs of import and export as well as increased trade with Europe and the expansion of maritime transport worldwide. In the meantime, the northern branch of the superhighway extends to Alexandria and its present port and airport and eastward through the Nile Delta coastal highway to Rosetta and Damietta.
The superhighway ends near the border with Sudan to allow a future extension to better link the two neighboring countries. Better ground links between Egypt and Sudan would have a positive impact on the economies of both countries. Near the terminal point, branches extend to Lake Nasser, Abu Simbel, and the Tushka depression — all regions that have promise in development of fisheries, tourism and agriculture, respectively.
2- EAST-WEST CONNECTORS
Branches of the main highway oriented in a roughly east-west direction would connect it to the main centers of population. They assure easy transport between the main cities of Egypt and between the main production areas and the outside world. Such branches may include the following:
- Alexandria Branch
- Delta Branch
- Cairo Branch
- Faiyum Branch
- Bahariya Branch
- Minya Branch
- Assiut Branch
- Qena Branch
- Luxor Branch
- Kom Ombu-Aswan Branch
- Toshka Branch
- Lake Nasser Branch
3- MODERN RAILWAY
Egypt’s railroads are very old and their tracks are laid on relatively soft soils that do not allow fast movement by heavy loads. Thus, the need exists for an advanced railroad system to serve present and future requirements of development. A rail- track parallel to the superhighway would serve that purpose. If deemed necessary, connecting tracks could be established along some of the east-west road branches in the future.
4- WATER PIPELINE
No development could be assured without the presence of freshwater. Even though several areas along the path of the superhighway promise the existence of groundwater, a pipeline of fresh water from the Toshka Canal is required to run the length of the superhighway. It is envisioned that a pipe of about one meter in diameter would provide the necessary resources for human consumption during the early phases of the project. Agricultural and industrial development along the east-west connectors would be supplied either by groundwater resources or subsidiary canals from the Nile. The length of the required pipeline is about 1,100 km. This is less than half that of the Great Man-Made River system in Libya.
5- ELECTRICITY LINE
Initial phases of the proposed project require energy for lighting, and refrigeration. Therefore, a line to supply electricity is one of the requirements of the project. The required power can be supplied by any one of the generation plants along the Nile Valley as deemed appropriate.
Urban communities, industrial plants and agricultural farms to be initiated along the east- west branches should be encouraged to utilize solar and/or wind energy resources as much as possible. This encouragement can be in the form of tax breaks or grants from the Egyptian Government or international environmental agencies.
- Opening new land for desert reclamation and the production of food.
- Establishing new areas for urban and industrial growth near large cities.
- Creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs for Egyptian labor.
- Arresting environmental deterioration throughout the Nile Valley.
- Relieving the existing road network from heavy and dangerous transport.
- Initiating new ventures in tourism and eco-tourism in the Western Desert.
- Connecting the Toshka region and its projects with the rest of the country.
- Creating a physical environment for economic projects by the private sector.
- Involving the population at large in the development of the country.
- Giving people, particularly the young, some hope for a better future.
- Focusing people’s energy on productive and everlasting things to do.
From the earliest time of recorded history, civilization blossomed among groups of people who were collectively able to achieve the following:
- Production of excess of food, for the growth of their bodies and minds
- Division of labor among the society, in a fair and well organized manner
- Easy living in urban areas, where some of them could create and innovate
Therefore, Egypt needs to satisfy these three conditions before paving the road for the re-spread of civilization along the banks of the Nile River. The proposed superhighway would go a long way toward achieving these goals. This needs strong faith in the resilience of the descendents of the energetic builders of the Pyramids. It would require a mere generation or two for this development initiative to bear fruit. This is not a long time in the 8,000- year history of Egypt, which deserves a distinguished position among great nations now and in the future. [Sources: Ahram Weekly and Global Arab Network]