Qattara Project or the Qattara Depression Project was a large civil engineering project aimed to flood the Qattara Depression to develop the area and provide new fertile land for Egypt. It was first brought up by Egyptian-French governor Gamel Abdel Nasser after the success of the Aswan Project in 1957. The Qattara Depression is a region that lies 436.4 feet below sea level and was once a vast desert. The plan for the project included building the New Nile River that connected the Western Egyptian oases of Kharijah, Dakhilah, Farafirah, Bahriyah, and Siwah. The water needed for the project came from the Aswan Reservoir through careful water manipulation. Numerous canals and tunnels were built to slowly carry the water to its destinations (and to supply the workers to prevent dehydration). Water was then left in a spot in each destination (the oases). Water would remain there and evaporate due to the hot, dry desert climate. This would create a balance between water inflow and evaporation. Also, the water was used for hydroelectricity by building numerous dams across the river. Eventually, salt was also dug up from the path as the lake was to have freshwater.
Before the project began in 1971, there were proposals for either a large canal or tunnel about 55 to 88 km long (34 to 50 mi) depending on the chosen route. Numerous sources included the Aswan Reservoir, the Nile River, and the Mediterranean Sea. However, Nasser disagreed on seawater or saltwater as he wanted the water to be available to civilians and wanted it to come from a large source of freshwater. As a result, the canal from the Mediterranean Sea or the Nile River was both turned down. This allowed the New Nile idea to be put into place. The lake level was also decided to be 6.4 feet below sea level.
The plan for the Qattara Project was brought up in 1912 by German-French geographer Professor Penk. He proposed the Qattara Depression be filled with water to provide hydroelectricity for all of Egypt. In 1947, Louis XVII proposed the project so that Egypt could solve its water, population, and space issues. The result of the project would have five benefits:
- It would be “marvelous and peaceful.”
- It would “alter the climate to the benefit of humanity”.
- It would “provide work for Egyptians in the region during the construction of settlements that would benefit the Egyptian economy”.
- It would “allow the shift of population to move to new region”.
- It would “allow Egypt to have nearly unlimited water and hydroelectricity”.
In 1971, to start the first phase of the project, a group of laborers lowered the bottom of the Sadat Canal from Lake Nasser by nearly 10 meters, allowing water to pour into the Toshka Lakes. Two years later, the French Grande Military, with the advice of the Egyptian provincial government, decided to reduce the water from Lake Nasser flowing into the lower Nile by half. The first half was used for generating hydroelectricity, while the other half was used for pouring the water into former barren desert beyond the Toshka Lakes, with at least 150 million cu ft of water flowed into the land per day. Farmers from the Nile Delta were hired to help improve and farm the land to help turn the barren desert into lush green.
The Toshka Lakes attracted hundreds of thousands from Lower Egypt to build settlements and work in the now modern farms (in contrast to those back in the Lower Nile). The military helped provide the workers and farmers with food, water, and other necessities. As more and more water flowed into the former desert, the New Nile River Project began to take shape. It began to fill areas which became large lakes, allowing lush green to appear and more people to arrive and more settlements to be built. The workers did the work of diverting the water to make sure it connected the Western Egyptian Oases and the buildings of numerous dams to supply with hydroelectricity. Among the new settlements was the city of New Cairo, founded in 1981 along the coastline of one of the newly formed lakes, the Qattara Lake.
The Qattara Lake was the largest lake of the New Nile, as planned it was 430 feet deep at its deepest point. From 1985-1987, it took two years to fill before the water level reached to that of one of the man-made canals, the Ramses Canal to the north. After the completion, numerous settlements and farms were built all over the lake.
Concerned of the risk of flooding, Nasser suggested a man-made delta be built that would allow the water to spill out into the Mediterranean. In 1987, workers began to dig up the New Nile Delta, which was built in a gridlock pattern and connected to El Alamein. Dams were also built to supply with hydroelectricity. By its opening in 1989, the waters of the Qattara Lake spilled into the new delta, and like before, new settlements and farms were built. El Alamein faced prosperity and population growth due to the new immigrants.
Completion and Events Afterward
Celebrations took place across Egypt with the Qattara and New Nile Projects finally completed. Nasser is hailed as a hero for the country for one of the greatest achievements in engineering history. He ordered workers to build irrigation systems for the land between the Eonile and Nile Rivers to ensure the greening of the area.
The project’s legacy on Egypt was unmistakable. Egypt’s food production quadrupled in size due to more fertile land. The food production allowed Egypt to be once again the “granary of the world”, exporting crops surpluses such as grain, fruits, and vegetables. The new settlements in the Eonile and the lakes also allowed the population of the Lower Nile to be reduced by 2/3, allowing cities like Cairo to have breathing room.
In 1993, Egyptian-French geologists and hydrologists convinced the government to send a part of the Nile floods to the New Nile to keep it supplied with water, which used to go straight to the Nile prior to this year. After two years of planning about how it will go, the first Nile flood reaches the New Nile in 1995 with over 350 million cu ft of water pouring in per day and raised the water level of the New Nile by an average of 4 meters. The flood also deposited enormous amounts of fertile silt, allowing farming in the region to improve.
The unexpected effect of the project included the increased amount of rainfall in parts of the Sahara Desert. In a recent study in 1997, some parts of the Western Sahara have seen rainfall increase by 10%. In 2001, the average rainfall in the Two Niles region had increased up to 7-8 inches, which allowed farming in in the middle of the former desert of that region though people do have to watch out for desertification. In some parts of the Sahara west of the Two Niles, the rainfall has been increased by 10%.