Examples of the policy of conquering the desert in Egypt, the projects of Touchka and east of al-Owaynat in Upper Egypt appear as a response, but opinions are divided on how to achieve them.

41867596At the south of Lake Nasser, and thirty years after the construction of Aswan Dam, Touchka is presented as the "safety valve" of Egypt by the authorities. The project of Touchka would multiply by four the inhabited area of the country from 5% to 25% of the land of Egypt. But if it is a real economic development plan to retain the population of Upper Egypt in the narrow valley and relieve the overcrowded Nile Delta, the project is questioned because of the enormous quantities of water that it claims and which may reduce the reserves to the north.

"Touchka is not a solution taken against the expansion of the Nile Valley", says the Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, Mohmoud Abu Zeid : "The potential of land around the valley are taken into account. Thus, a plan is currently under implementation to add two million feddans around the valley and outside Touchka. However, the expansion from the Nile Valley is essential".

According to estimates made by the American Chamber of Commerce in Cairo, the total project investment over the next twenty years will amount to 90 billion dollars, a quarter of which must be financed by Egypt and the rest by the private sector . If President Hosni Mubarak has chosen to engage, by 2002, three billion dollars of public funds, practically without international support, to build the canal and pumping station, it's because he expects to see the private sector take over then.

Regarding the project of east of al-Owaynat, 240 km in the west of Touchka, it aims to cultivate 200 000 feddans (84 000 hectares) in large holdings of 14,000 to 24,000 feddans each. Since 1998, some sites have found buyers, as the Egyptian businessman Mohamed Aboul Einein, who initiates the first breeding of ostriches in the country. Irrigation is entirely dependent on 62 wells. The state has already invested 103 million into the project on infrastructure.41867598_p

Rationalization of water : In all cases, the water needs are a key issue. For Egypt to overcome the lack of water from traditional systems of irrigation, the Ministry of Irrigation introduced last year to the government a long term plan. The plan focuses on three fundamental points concerning the rationing and the use of available water : improvement of irrigation system, the change of agricultural structure and wastewater recycling. All this could bring, about the year 2017, an amount of water further eight billion m3. In addition, the plan aims to increase the pumping of groundwater from four billion m3 currently to seven billion m3. "according to the contracts operating Touchka fields, the owner will bear the costs of water supply, set at the 350 LE per feddan", says Abu Zeid. "On the other hand, we encourage them to make a rational use of water, giving them a price decrease if consumption is reduced".

Chemical or natural fertilizers : On the question of which type of fertilizer will be used to cultivate new land, Gilles Fédière, french researcher at the "Institut de Recherche scientifique pour le Développement en Cooperation" (IRD, former ORSTOM) indicates that "chemical fertilizers are not harmful to human health if used in a manner well studied. The danger lies in the chemical insecticides. That is why we must use natural insecticides, such as viruses and bacteria that attack the pest species".

Yet some people argue that water sometimes has an odor and taste that evoke the famous DDT. The president of water services Hussein al-Chahaoui states that a sample of water from the Greater Cairo is examined every hour through 13 monitoring stations and the results are always negative. He added that this phenomenon is repeated every year at the reduced flow of the Nile, which promotes the dissolution of certain plants and their reaction with chlorine.

Apart from this case subject to controversy, a researcher at the IRD, who requested anonymity, said that in order not to affect the environment we must ensure that anything added will undergo an operation of biodegradation to it does not contaminate other areas. He indicates that the chemicals used to fertilize the land destroy the environment, which requires the use of organic fertilizers such as animal waste. Regarding the transfer of Nile silt accumulated in Lake Nasser, to enrich the bed of the river and land to improve its valley, officials from the IRD ensure that "it is theoretically possible, but the problem lies in financing such a project".

Environmental challenges of the fertilization of the land : If agriculture is the backbone of the economy of Egypt, this industry is unfortunately influenced by some negative aspects of agricultural expansion. On the one hand, migration of the population into agricultural areas, which reduces a continuous acreage already limited to six million feddans. On the other hand, the geographical location of Egypt which is by definition in the arid zone with artificial irrigation system of limited capacity in the area close to the Nile Valley and its delta.

The ambitious current projects, even if they are essential to the development of the country, are so difficult and expensive to achieve, even though they may create new environmental threats.