Egypt "Greens" Deserts to Stem Housing, Food Shortages

Steven Stanek in Tahrir Province, Egypt
for National Geographic News
January 8, 2008

Three decades ago, a drive along the main road from Cairo to Alexandria was a sleepy trip through the desert, with nothing to see but a blank sandy expanse.

But today that road is lined with prosperous farms, neon-colored citrus fields, and farmers toiling in the suddenly fertile stretch of earth known as Tahrir Province.

This changing vista is just one example of Egypt's ambitious plan to cultivate the deserts that consume most of its landscape, a government policy that has been on the books for decades but which is only now achieving large-scale success.

"There is no desert left at all," said Mohsen Nawara, manager of South Tahrir Station, a research farm founded by the Desert Development Center (DDC) of the American University in Cairo. "It's all green now."

In the last decade, Egypt has "reclaimed" roughly a million acres (400,000 hectares) from its arid landscape, according to government officials, who say another 2.4 million acres (million hectares) will be added by 2017.

Egyptian policy makers believe such development is the best—and perhaps only—way to ease the burdens brought on by the country's exploding population.

(See photos of the desert projects.)

Urban Explosion

Roughly 95 percent of Egypt's 80 million people are packed into Nile Valley and Delta, which offers the country's most habitable land but makes up less than 5 percent of its landmass.

The population grows by about 1.5 million people per year, and population density reaches up to 4,900 people per square mile (1,900 people per square kilometer) in the cities, where unemployment is high and housing is scarce.

To make matters worse, prime agricultural land in the valley and delta is disappearing at a yearly rate of about 74,000 acres (30,000 hectares)—close to one percent of total arable land—due to urbanization.

By reclaiming the desert, Egypt hopes to move large swaths of people to settlements outside the Nile Basin, where they can find jobs and houses and help the country achieve food security.

Continued on Next Page >>


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