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Quenching the Thirst for Water in Egypt’s Western Desert

28 May, 2017
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The oases of the Western Desert depend on a sole water source for their survival: the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer. However, the aquifer contains fossil water that is finite and one day it will run dry. En route to the White Desert, a small stone building is hoping to have a big impact and change the course before it’s too late. 

The Water Education Center of El Heiz Oasis was established to convey knowledge about water, and to promote water conservation. 

The threat of global draught, conflict among Nile Basin countries over their shared river, pollution—from factories that dump their waste water into the Nile to the sewage system—and a fast-growing population are all threats to Egypt’s water supply. Yet, the country’s people continue to remain unaware or ignore such an immense problem. 

Located 40 km south of Bahariya Oasis and 400 km southwest of Cairo, the center was established in 2016 by the Research Institute for a Sustainable Environment (RISE) of the American University in Cairo (AUC), with funding from HSBC. Established in an agricultural village, it is a space designed to educate farmers, engineers, professionals, youth and teachers about effective ways of reducing water consumption and reusing it to produce food. It will serve as a center for water management, education and innovation. 

The Water Education Center itself is a model for sustainable building and construction. Designed by architectural students from across Egypt in a sustainable construction competition with active participation from the local population, the building was erected with natural rocks, soil, wood and palm tree materials. The center is energy self-sufficient and entirely powered by solar energy. Grey water is reused for the irrigation of the center’s landscape. In addition, much of the center’s furniture was built with reused objects in order to stimulate ideas on how to create comfortable living environments from materials usually thrown away as “waste”.

It contains a classroom as well as a Desert Water Exhibition. Two exhibition rooms present information about water in its natural environments, water issues in Egypt, water and Egypt’s natural history, water and its meaning in desert history, as well as displays about the cultural history of El Heiz, water management in farming and irrigation, renewable energy and sustainable living.

Training workshops and other classes are held, free of cost, for anyone who wants to join. A wide range of information and interactive displays highlight water usage, resources, integrated solutions and modern technology.

One workshop discussed desert ecosystems, the importance of water in these systems, and the ways each and every one of us can help protect our ecosystem. A water-themed sand art workshop left participants with a collection of differently colored sand from across the Western Desert for his natural paintings.

The center also hosts language classes and short practical training sessions for local residents, led by expert volunteers from RISE and its partners.

Following a community based approach, the center is managed and owned by the community of El Heiz. Profits generated from ticket sales and events are spent on expanding the facility and funding small sustainability and water conservation projects in the oasis.

Support the center by volunteering, visiting and contributing to its cause.


Photo Credit: Cold mineral spring Bir Wahed on the desert outskirts of Siwa Oasis. By Enas El Masry

Tags Western Desert Oasis Water water conservation Environment Water Education Center