WMU News

WMU scientists help bring fresh water to desert

Oct. 14, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- With a $221,116 grant from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International and Cultural Affairs, two Egyptian Universities and Western Michigan University will go about the business of addressing water supply problems in one of the most arid areas of the world -- the Sinai Peninsula and the eastern desert of Egypt.

The grant to WMU's Office of International Affairs and the Department of Geosciences will allow the University to partner with Suez Canal University in Ismailia and South Valley University in Qena to address critical ground water supply and waste disposal problems in both areas. The project began in July and will run through February 2005.

"Water is Egypt's most precious resource," says project director Dr. Alan Kehew, chairperson of the Department of Geosciences. "But diversions of the Nile River for irrigation, industry and drinking water have reached the limit of expansion for future usage. The only feasible alternative for new supplies of fresh water is development of ground water resources."

The burgeoning population in the Sinai Peninsula, along with industrial and tourism development, has not only necessitated a need for alternative water sources but also requires a plan to deal with waste disposal. The extent to which ground water supplies can be exploited to meet these needs is unknown.

"The issue Egypt will face is to identify and develop sustainable ground water resources, while at the same time it protects aquifers from contamination," Kehew says.

The initial stages of the program will assess environmental needs in Egypt related to ground water resources and waste management. Pilot research projects conducted by faculty and graduate students from the three universities will then be initiated in the south Sinai Peninsula and eastern desert with state-of-the-art technologies from WMU.

"Geophysical techniques that image below the ground will be used to explore new sources of ground water. We will also be able to tell the origin and age of the water," says Kehew.

Ten Egyptian professors and students will also travel to WMU to take a hydrogeology course that teaches ground water technologies used in water resource protection.

"The course is unique in the United States, in that it provides intense, hand-on experiences in ground water resource development, management and protection," says Kehew. He notes that the group will also meet with community and environmental groups in Southwest Michigan to study how communities and government collaborate to protect the environment. Similar nongovernmental environmental organizations will be encouraged in Egypt.

"This grant project matches Egypt's needs with WMU's strengths in geosciences," says Dr. Howard Dooley, WMU executive director of WMU international affairs department. In addition to the goal of bringing an adequate supply of fresh water to Egypt, Dooley sees the project in a broader context.

"The contacts fostered through this program will not only strengthen our bond with the two universities, but also will help develop citizen-to-citizen, student-to-student relationships in the Middle East, which are more important now, than ever," says Dooley.

Joint Ph.D. supervisory programs in the mid-1980s between WMU and Suez Canal University laid the foundations of the WMU-Egypt Hydrogeology project. Dr. Al-Araby Shendi, a geophysicist at Suez Canal University, spent a year at WMU working on his Ph.D. In 1996, Dr. Ahmed El-Reyes spent six months in WMU working on his dissertation under the supervision of Kehew. Dr. Farouk Soliman, who visited WMU in January 1997 will serve as project director from Suez Canal University, and Dr. Abbas Mansour, who spent the summer of 2001 on campus, will lead the South Valley University Group.

Cathleen Fuller, overseas program coordinator for WMU, and Dr William Sauck, and Dr. Duane Hampton, both associate professors of geosciences, will serve as co-directors on the project.

Media contact: Matt Gerard, 269 387-8400, matthew.gerard@wmich.edu

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