In northern Egypt, scientists recover wastewater from the city of Ismailia and use it to fertilize trees. In just 15 years, a 200 hectare forest has grown in the desert.
Huge potential for drylands worldwide
Egypt is one of the driest countries in the world: the desert covers 97% of its area. Lack of water and soil fertility are a real threat for its 82 million inhabitants. And almost all of them live in the Nile Valley – the only cultivable area.
The best way of curbing desertification is growing trees, which offer a natural barrier against sandstorms.
But in order to grow in the desert, a single tree needs 10 liters of water per day. So how do you grow a forest? A team of scientists found the solution: use wastewater.
Wastewater as a natural fertilizer
The water is partially treated: it is freed of organic residues and pollutants but still contains phosphate and nitrogen. A combination that is found in commercial fertilizers! Although the water is unfit for human consumption, it is a perfect fertilizer for plants.
The initiative dates back to the 1990s during which the Egyptian government launched an extensive reforestation plan to rehabilitate the country’s driest areas.
Many different species of trees have been planted in the area around Ismailia. With good sunlight and the wastewater fertilizer, they grow four times faster than they do in European forests. Over a period of 15 years, they have already almost reached their maximum size – it takes over 60 years in France! So much so that the “Serapium” forest now covers more than 200 hectares.
Hope for drylands
The system has three major advantages. Firstly, making use of wastewater helps preserve natural water resources in a country with significant supply problems for its population. Secondly, the initiative has helped create local jobs: 18 foresters look after the trees. And finally, the forest provides a source of income: the sale of wood from the mahogany and eucalyptus trees are helping to boost the region’s economy.
This irrigation system has huge potential for the world’s arid areas because it is able to address the issue of agricultural production in infertile areas. In Egypt alone, 650,000 hectares of desert could become forest thanks to this system.