Article by Baha Abulnaga & Magda Danish
At the EAS picnic in mid May, I had the privilege of meeting Baha Abulnaga for the first time. An expert in his field, Baha shared with me his frustrations and hopes and his keen desire to raise awareness about an important project which he has been advocating for the past ten years. He spoke with such passion and conviction that I felt it was my duty to attempt to make his voice heard through the EAS modest publication.
Baha left Alexandria at the age of 2 when his father was appointed as a translator to the UNESCO in Paris, France and where both his parents completed their doctorate degrees at the famous Sorbonne University. Eventually the family moved to the United States in 1974 when Arabic became an official language of the United Nations and Baha’s father, Dr. Sayed Abulnaga, was asked to create the department of Arabic interpreters. When a new department was also founded at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Dr. Abulnaga was once again asked to head this effort and the family moved back to Europe.
Baha obtained his Bachelor degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of London and then returned to Egypt to complete his military service. While there, he thought about applying for a Masters degree in his specialty, but the officer in charge of his platoon refused to give him authorization to attend day courses at Cairo University. This prompted Baha to register for night courses at the American University in Cairo but had no choice but to do a Masters degree in Materials Engineering, as Aeronautical Engineering courses were not offered at the AUC at the time.
This unintentional change in his line of studies embarked Baha into a career in Mining which spanned 23 years and had him work in Australia, Canada, the United States and South America. He finally returned to the US in 2004 when Chevron hired him as an advisor on “slurry hydrocracking” a revolutionary process which aims to produce synthetic petroleum from tar. Some of his work at Chevron was patented and he is listed as the inventor for the recovery of catalysts. In 2007 he joined the Fluor Corporation where he has been leading the department of slurry pipelines until today.
Following the publication of his 800 page book “Slurry Systems Handbook” in 2002, Baha approached Dr. Farouk ElBaz about the sedimentation of Lake Nasser-Nubia. According to published data, 85% of Lake Nasser-Nubia – which runs 150km in Sudan and 350km in Egypt – is sedimented. This sedimentation caused its depth to be reduced from 25 meters back in the mid sixties to 6 meters only in the present day in the most affected areas of Nubia. Satellite images even point to the formation of a new Delta.
Egypt’s share of silt (طمي) which neared 135 million cubic meters per year before the construction of the High Dam decreased to only 4% of that amount. Its land became arid, chemical fertilizers became the norm and the brick industry died, leaving the farmers with no other option than to use top soil to manufacture the bricks they so desperately need.
The solution proposed by Baha consists of dredging the silt from the Lake Nasser-Nubia, transporting it to shore using slurry pipelines which will deposit it into special ponds. Gravity will cause the sediments to sink while the extra water can be reused for irrigation or simply returned to the Nile.
Dr. ElBaz put Baha in contact with the Ministry of Water Resources and the Nile Research Institute. In 2003, he co-authored with Moustafa ElSammany ‘Mine over Matter’, a document which explains in detail how approximately 3.7 billion cubic meters of rich sediments deposited in the Aswan High Dam reservoir between 1964 and 2000 can be mined through these modern lake mining techniques and used to turn portions of the Egyptian desert into agricultural land.
In 2004, the minister of Irrigation and Water Resources announced that Japan will finance a 175 million dollar feasibility study for which two sites totaling 5,000 feddans near Abu Simbel were allocated. Needless to say, neither Baha nor any of his Egyptian collaborators for that matter were ever mentioned in relation to this project.
“Minister Yussef Wali’s announcement on July 15, 2004 was about a funding of $175 million for 5,000 feddans, that’s about $35,000 per feddan which sounds too high to me”, says Baha, “In my paper with Dr. El-Fadil, we came up with a cost of $3-4/m3 of sediment, that’s below $17,000 per feddan if we covered each feddan with 1 m high of sediments using imported equipment. This amount can be reduced even further should we use local manufacturers. The bare minimum of sediments would be a depth of a quarter of a meter for animal grazing, and half a meter for food production, bringing the cost even lower.”
“The UNESCO launched a major International Sediment Initiative in 2009 and in November 2009 the Egyptian and Sudanese governments announced their intention to study sediment management of Lake Nubia Nasser with a $2.7 million funding from the World Bank. ”, Baha goes on to say citing one argument after the other in support of the project he envisioned and shared with the Egyptian authorities almost 10 years ago. It is his ultimate dream to find a way to implement this project even if it means starting on a very small scale and with very little investment.
Baha’s enthusiasm reminded me of the lyrics of a Salah Jaheen song my children grew up with in 1980’s Egypt:
عايزينها تبقى خضرا الأرض اللي في الصحرا و نقدمها لمصر هدية حاجة جميلة ومعتبرة
Any chance someone can help make this twenty year old dream come true?