Date:April 2, 2020

Egyptian Researchers Discover A Way To Grow A Forrest In The Middle Of Desert Using Sewage Water

When Egypt is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the great pyramids in the middle of an even greater desert. None of us probably imagine a green space over there. And in fact, the picture we get when Egypt is mentioned has reasons – 96% of Egypt’s landmass is coated in the desert.

Now, lack of green spaces is a big issue, especially nowadays, when we’re dealing with climate changes. So, Egypt’s researchers have come up with a very ambitious program on tackling this problem. The program’s main aim is to use wastewater to feed the forests and make sustainable and commercial forests. The program showed to be so successful, that even a German forest investment company named Forest Finance, has put their money on this program.

So far, the program has 36 tracts of land throughout Egypt, with Serapium Forest (Serapium Frest is the result of a research program initiated by the government of Egypt from the 1990s) as the most prosperous, with 500-miles of teak, eucalyptus, and mahogany trees. Among these, eucalyptus has shown to thrive in the desert forest, producing wood at four times the rate of pine plantations in Germany.

Serapium Forest short distance from the busy Egyptian city of Ismailia, inhabited by 400,000 people who produce a significant amount of sewage water every day, which is the source of trees’ nourishment.

The sewage water arrives at the forest through massive microorganism-populated underground vats. Oxygen is fed into the system to accelerate the bacterial purification process. And lastly, a network of pipes spits out the wastewater into the forest. The human wastewater is comparable to a MiracleGro formula since it’s rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, except it’s free thanks to Ismailia’s residents.

Outside the plantation, the sun beats down with an intensity twice that of in Europe – Credits: DW/O

The remarkable feature is that the tree plantation along the banks of the basin is in the middle of the Egyptian desert. The ground under the trees is covered with a layer of dry fallen leaves, but other than that, it doesn’t differ from the desert sand surrounding the plantation.

Out there in the desert, the sun beats down with a force of about 2,200 kilowatt-hours per square meter – an intensity twice that of sunshine in Germany. Living soil has no chance here unless sheltered from the ferocity of direct exposure to the strong sunshine of Egypt, and that’s when desertification happens.

Desertification is a process where land that was once semi-arable or fertile becomes desert due to unsustainable agricultural practices or long-lasting droughts. As the desert expands, people start to lose ground and vegetation. Some countries are taking action to bring back biodiversity and crops, which had slowly died out due to the desertification process.

Local women traveling through the forest. Credit: Joerg Boethling

Africa is among the continents taking action in the Sahel region. They have successfully conducted a large and vital project called Great Green Wall to combat desertification. China also made a similar wall called the Three-North Shelter Forest Program.

Meanwhile, the German company, Forest Finance, has already established near-natural forests in Vietnam and Panama to aid the countries in CO2 absorption, wildlife conservation, and economic development. The company wants to include a plantation on the Serapium site to increase the number of species and biodiversity, which hopefully results in an enormous array of life and increased profits.

Feeding tree plantations with second-stage treated effluent water could be the basis for a business model in half the world, according to El Kateb. “We can use this to create badly needed jobs in arid regions worldwide, giving people a reason not to leave their home countries,” he said.

The method could be used in countries in North Africa and the Sahel, in parts of the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula, as well as in countries with extensive deserts and arid regions like in Latin America and China.

Not only this method could create new jobs, but also tree plantation would help to stop the desertification.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said forests are the most effective barriers against desertification. According to FAO statistics, deserts are spreading globally at a rate of 23 hectares per minute – about the size of three football fields.

To finance a tree-planting campaign in the desert using effluent, El Kateb has proposed using money from the Green Climate Fund agreed to at the UN climate conference in Paris in December 2015. In addition, the net positive CO2 balance from tree plantations could generate revenues through the sale of emissions certificates.

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