The four oases overlie a dead, prehistoric branch of the Nile, tapping a subterranean aquifer estimated to contain fifty thousand cubic kilometres of water. In 1958 Nasser’s government unveiled plans to irrigate the desert and relocate landless peasants from the overcrowded Nile Valley and Delta to this New Valley (El-Wadi el-Jedid). From this emerged a New Valley governorate charged with running Kharga, Dakhla and Farafra oases, in collaboration with the 6th October City governorate which administers Bahariya Oasis.

Since work began in the 1970s doubts have surfaced about the aquifer, which was previously thought to be replenished by underground seepage from Lake Chad and Equatorial Africa but is now believed to be a finite – perhaps rapidly diminishing – resource. The water-table has fallen dramatically in all the oases except Siwa, boreholes must be deeper and the ground water pumped to the surface is hotter. A decade’s effort by Mubarak’s regime to bring Nile water to Kharga Oasis via the Sheikh Zayed Canal, and exploit the aquifier beneath the desert at East Oweinat, has left several ghost towns deserted by settlers disillusioned by the lack of jobs and infrastructure.

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