I took these pictures in Egypt between 1995 and 1998. They illustrate some of the environmental problems that contemporary Egyptians face.


"Desert and Sown," 1996. Here we are standing only a few hundred yards from the line that marks the border between the cultivable land of the Nile Valley and the infertile rock and sand of the Western Desert Plateau. Government reclamation projects have been able to turn some areas of the desert into farmland, but in most of the Egyptian desert, the sandy soil is only a few inches thick. Note how abrupt and total the border is. See below for a closer (though blurry) view.

Notice in the lower right corner the ruins of some ancient Egyptian tombs. The ancient Egyptians always buried their dead in the uncultivable desert, on the westerm bank of the Nile. Though the ancient Egyptians may have done this for symbolic reasons, it also had the advantage of conserving arable land for productive use. Similarly, the Muslim Arabs who settled in Egypt after the 8th century preferred to build their cities and cemeteries on the edge of the desert rather than waste valuable fertile land. Today, however, the pressure of Egypt’s burgeoning population has forced villages and cities to build houses where fields once stood. Though the government is now building housing developments in the desert, the high cost of pumping water to these developments makes this an extremely expensive venture.



"Siwa Olive Irrigation," 1996. This is an irrigation canal in an olive and pomegranate grove near Siwa, in the Qattara Depression near the Libyan border. Agriculture in the Qattara Depression suffers from heavily salinized soil. In Siwa, plentiful ground water wells to the surface in natural springs, which is channeled into groves via irrigation canals like this one. However, the climate here is extremely arid, so water that collects on the soil evaporates quickly, leaving behind a layer of salts. The salts render the soil only marginally productive. Here you can see the salts as a white deposit on the sides of the canal and at the edges of the damp soil. 


"Good Pollution Day, Bad Pollution Day," 1995. I took these pictures from the balcony of my apartment in the Sa’d Zaghlul district of Cairo. The "good pollution" picture was taken a little later in the day. On a very good day, I could see the Muhammad ‘Ali Mosque and Muqattam Hills from the roof. However, on most days the whitish haze of humidity and the unleaded exhaust of hundreds of buses obscures that view. The extremely poor conditions in the "bad pollution" picture were caused by seasonal dust storms called "khamsiin." During the khamsiin season (March-April), heavy clouds blanket the city (and sometimes the entire country—as in the monstrous storm of 1998 that hit while I was camping in the White Desert near Bahriyyah Oasis…). The clouds hold in the noxious fumes of automobiles and factories, making the air nearly unbreathable. High winds carrying yellow sand from the surrounding desert whip through the city with sufficient force to sting one’s face, scratch one’s glasses, and throw open or break unsecured doors and windows. (You have this on the authority of my personal experience. The latter occurrence of course results in one’s living room becoming a sand dune). 




"Khamsiin at the Pyramid of Khufu," 1996.  I took this picture from the entrance to the Great Pyramid of Khufu during a mild khamsiin storm.  The scruffy-looking picture of me on my home page was also taken during this storm.


Copyright © 1999 Indira Falk Gesink

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