Mubarak Plans to Make Parched Desert Bloom: Toshka Project Ranks among Egypt's Largest

By Hirst, David | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 4, 1999 | Go to article overview

Mubarak Plans to Make Parched Desert Bloom: Toshka Project Ranks among Egypt's Largest


Hirst, David, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


TOSHKA, Egypt - No plant, not the coarsest scrub, softens this lunar landscape of Nubian sandstone, gaunt, fantastic outcrops of basalt - and summer temperatures of up to 125 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.

It is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth and an unlikely spot to recreate Eden. But, by bringing water to Toshka, President Hosni Mubarak is on the verge of realizing the ancient Egyptian dream of making the desert bloom.

The Pharaohs built their pyramids. President Abdel Nasser built the world's largest dam and man-made lake in Egypt. Mr. Mubarak wants to add his name to the list of Egyptian wonders with Toshka. According to government officials, Toshka is Egypt's newest frontier, a "mega-national project" and "the birth of a new civilization."

"The water is there. The land is suitable for cultivation," said Abdelaleem El Abyad, spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy in Washington. "It is a very great challenge. It is creating a new culture. We are going to make the desert bloom."

Mr. El Abyad said this type of project is necessary to relieve overcrowding in the Nile River Valley.

"President Mubarak has pledged to improve the lives of our people. We have to create new opportunities for our people," he said.

Critics call the entire scheme a mega-boondoggle, too expensive and unlikely to work.

"I can cultivate any place on Earth if you are willing to spend all that money," said Rushdi Said, a top Egyptian geologist, recently. "Yes, it will be green, but how expensive is it, and is it the best way of using your money, water and resources? How many people will benefit, how many use that land?"

If the project is successful, Egyptians for the first time in their 6,000 years of history will be freed from the confines of the Nile River Valley - the narrow ribbon of rich, dark earth that runs from Central Africa to the Mediterranean.

Redirecting its water will allow Egypt to move into the new Toshka Valley.

The plan calls for western Egypt to draw its sustenance from Lake Nasser, which was created when the Aswan High Dam was finished in 1971. It currently irrigates more than 1 million acres of formerly desert land.

Mr. Mubarak's monument, the world's largest pumping station, is going up on Lake Nasser's western shore. Powered by electricity generated from the High Dam, it will pump about 175 billion cubic feet of water annually, about 10 percent of its annual allowance, to a canal dug on higher ground.

The Sheik Zayed Canal will carry the water 180 miles to four branch tributaries, making possible the cultivation of nearly 540,000 acres of the previously arid wasteland.

The government estimates the infrastructure - the pumping station, the canal and the tributaries will cost about $1.5 billion.

Egypt's political opposition thinks the final tab will be much more. But even that pales compared with the estimated $100 billion-plus that could be needed, over 20 years, for the entire Western Desert scheme.

The government argues that with Egypt's conversion to the free market, four-fifths of the cost for the project will come from private enterprise.

Critics scoff at the notion that cheap land, cheap water and big tax breaks will make up for the area's remoteness, the fearsome climate, the infertile soil and a very high evaporation rate.

However, one foreign investor, Prince Walid bin Talal, a Saudi tycoon, has come forward to invest in infrastructure and purchase 120,000 acres at Toshka for $600 million. …

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