Dam building in the Sinai
I recently returned from the SKGR - Makhad dam building trip to the Sinai and would like to thank everyone who supported the venture through generous donations towards the cost of building the dam. We were able to raise not only the cost of building this particular dam but also sufficient to cover at least half the cost of a future project. The money was needed to pay for both materials and the labour of the Bedouin builders who worked on the dam, and also our two cooks. The main material cost was the bags of cement which all had to be carried by camel from the local village of Saint Catherines, up into the mountains, around a two hour trek each way. There’s no vehicle access into the mountains. The sand and rocks used to build the dam are freely available close by.
Some of the Bedoiun had been busy for 5 days before we arrived, getting the cement in, collecting a big pile of sand and piles of rocks, and digging down to the bedrock across the narrow wadi where the dam was to be built. Then we had 3 days of working with them to build the dam, which involved carrying the stones and buckets of cement, while the Bedouin did the cement mixing (hard work by hand in the hot sun!) and the actual construction. Then on the fourth day they finished off the dam while we went for a wonderful trek through the mountains.
This work is of great benefit to the Bedouin – it gives them employment in their traditional lands (they have to look for work in the coastal towns if there’s not enough work in Saint Catherines village) and it’s also a social occasion, bringing them together to work, eat and sleep. There were 10 of them working on the dam and the 2 cooks also. They love being in the mountains and several of them have gardens there – they live in small concrete houses down in the village, but spend time in their gardens in the summer, harvesting the fruit from the apricot, almond, pomegranite, fig, quince and apple trees, and growing some vegetables like tomatoes, courgettes and salads. Every garden has a well from which they pump water, but due to the prolonged drought over the last decade or so, and over – extraction of ground water by tourist developments, the water table has been falling, so many of the wells have had to be deepened. This has been supported by the Makhad Trust, and over 100 wells have been deepened so far. This has to be done by hand and so also provides work for the Bedouin. The aim of building the dams is to retain water after rainfall so that it can seep down and replenish the water table, instead of running of down the wadis. The garden owners have found that building a dam really does help with the water supply, so that now all the owners want to have a dam!
We stayed in a garden just below the dam we were working on, owned by a man called Salem. He was so pleased to get his dam! Our hosts looked after us really well with plenty of delicious food, and I certainly enjoyed staying there despite the rather basic conditions! A very bright waxing moon at night, whilst sleeping under the stars.
We transferred to the desert at a place called Matamir for the last 3 days, for a short retreat. In the afternoon of our first day there, a storm blew up and there was a heavy shower of rain, a rare event in the desert region. A couple of days before, one in our company had a dream of rain coming in to fall on the mountains, but we found out that unfortunately the rain had not fallen on our dam (which is quite a distance from Matamir). We finished the journey with a very hot camel trek and walk across the desert to a stunning sand dune with a very steep slope with we slid and rolled down! It was great to have the retreat after the very physical days of working, and a good balance too – it fits with the two sides of SKGR.
by Simon Gapper