Report on a meeting of members of the Commission “Arid Lands, Humankind, and Environment” and on a field trip to the Farafra Sandsea as part of the project „Egyptian Sand Accumulations“
Field trip, May 2006
During a seven-day field trip in Utah, Nevada, California and Arizona, the magnificent landforms of this arid zone were visited by Professors George Brook, Nabil Embabi and Mahmoud Ashour during May 2005. A detailed illustrative report is in preparation.
Meeting and field trips of the AHE-Commission, April 2-6, 2006
Jointly sponsored by the International Geographical Union (IGU) and the Egyptian Geographical Society (EGS), the meeting was held together with the commissions for "Cultures and Civilisations for Human Development (CCHD)" and the "Mediterranean Renaissance Program (MRP)". Participants included Egyptian colleagues from Universities of Alexandria, Zagagig, Masura, Cairo and Ain Shams, and a number of students from Ain Shams University.
Foreign delegates were cordially welcomed at the magnificent quarters of the Egyptian Geographical Society by the President, Professor Mohammed Abulezz. He opened the meeting with a warm welcome to participants and assurances that he, in his role as President of EGS, had promised IGU President Adalberto Vallega of Egypt's potential role in supporting the initiative on the UN Year of Cultures and Civilisations for Human Development. Professor Mahmoud Ashour then outlined the agenda for the two-day event and invited Professor Anne Buttimer, representative and Past President of the IGU, to address the meeting. She reported that special efforts have been taken to re-establish better interactions with colleagues in the Arab world, e.g., by choosing Tunis as site for the next IGC 2008. Other recent schemes include Corresponding Membership for individuals and institutions, the Promotion and Solidarity Scheme, the Country Partnership program, the Home of Geography in Rome and the re-vitalisation of regional networks. With respect to the arid regions she argued that in the long historical sweep of human civilizations throughout the arid zones of the Mediterranean World, issues of water availability, access and use have been acute. Among the many potential common denominators of shared concern, surely those of water, aridity and sustainable ways of life are among the most urgent.
The Opening paper of the session (Chair: Giuliano Bellezza) by Professor Nabil S. Embabi, author of the impressive volume, Geomorphology of Egypt, raised the evocative question "Why playas attract so much interest in Egypt?" The details soon provided answers. Playas (temporary or ephemeral lakes in the desert) have served as gathering points for animals and humans in arid lands throughout history; they reveal substantial mineral wealth; they have been sites for agricultural innovations and products; and recently they reveal vital information on climate change over time. This well-illustrated presentation included graphic evidence from archaeological analyses of artefacts as well as from geo-chemical analyses of sediments to reveal especially the evidence of climate change. Illustrations from the relatively recent playa of Farafra also demonstrated its relevance for agricultural innovation and sustainable production.
Dr Olaf Bubenzer, newly appointed Secretary for the Commission, presented images of new technological possibilities for remote sensing of topography, esp. playa depressions and sand dunes. His paper entitled "New elevation data for geomorphological and geo-archaeological research in arid regions" provided fresh perspectives on the issue of representation - how to capture the changing configuration over time in the height (as well as the shape and the volume) of sand dunes. Illustrations included not only measurements (and identification of height errors) made within the Rhine valley in Germany, but also sites within Egypt where improved accuracy was gained on the identification of water resources and of aeolian influences on playa depression and sand dune formation during the Holocene.
Finally, Professor Mahmoud Ashour presented a lecture on the playa of Ebu-El-Egl in Egypt's Western Desert. This complimented the earlier presentation by Professor Embabi. Details on the importance of woodland shade within the playa, archaeological evidence from Neolithic caves, combined with analyses of layered rock, all point toward the multi-facetted importance of playas in historical times.
Before the dispersal of participants, a brief meeting was arranged for members of the Commission. This included Professor Mahmoud Ashour, Chair, Secretary Dr. Olaf Bubenzer, Dr. Ulrik Mårtensson and Professor Nabil S. Embabi. Questions on Commission procedure were raised and co-ordinates of IGU website and Secretariat were supplied. Professor Anne Buttimer raised questions on the substantive content of Commission agenda, particularly on the "humankind" element. It was generally acknowledged that insights from the Cairo workshop, particularly those relating to indigenous geographical knowledge of livelihood practices which could be sustainable in arid environments should be highlighted in Commission reports to the Tunis IGC 2008.
Field trip, 4-5 April, 2006
At the 3rd of April, Dr Mahmoud M Ahmed, from the National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences introduced the field excursion to Alexandria. He lectured on "The Role of Space Technology and GIS in the Integrated Coastal Zone Management" with specific focus on the sea wall erected a decade ago to protect Egypt's northern Nile coastline from erosion. Coastal instability at Rosetta promontory has almost continued during the last century. Severe erosion was determined along other cells over the delta coast. Many development projects are constructed and planned during the last five decades, without taking in consideration this kind of problems.