Tomorrow’s weather forecast for Aswan, Egypt: hot, no rain.
Technically Aswan is not the driest place on the planet. That distinction goes to The Dry Valleys in Antarctica, which last saw precipitation two million years ago, give or take a few days. Aswan, though, is the world’s driest permanently inhabited town. The last time it rained here was in 2006. Before that it was 1994. Do the math and the average annual rainfall works out to 0.5 millimeters, or about the thickness of a stack of five sheets of typical photocopy paper.
Fortunately for Aswan it lies on the banks of the Nile River. That water source has allowed humans to not only live in the Aswan area but to thrive here for millennia. Aswan, originally called Swenet, was ancient Egypt’s first urban center. (And to be ancient Egypt’s first anything is really saying something).
Today, a bounty of remnants from Aswan’s long history have survived intact, enough to fill an entire travel guidebook. Some of the highlights include:
The Tomb of the Nobles. Aswan’s top attraction, this 4,000 year old complex of tombs is still decorated with paintings depicting scenes of ancient life and hieroglyphics telling stories of adventure.
Abu Simbel. Spot Cool Stuff’s selection for the coolest temple in the whole of Egypt. It is massive, built into rock and guarded over by four stone giants carved into a cliff face. Getting to Abu Simbel can be an adventure in itself; most Aswan tourist hotels can arrange for transport.
Philae Temple. A structure over 2,500 years old supported by massive columns. It was originally built to honor the Egyptian goddess Isis and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Those sights and more draw thousands of tourists to Aswan every year. But, despite the consistently cloudless skies, few of them look at this ancient town through the lens of water. With the pressures of modern life, water is even more of an issue for residents of Aswan today than it was for their ancient ancestors.
Any water-centric tour of Aswan would have to being with a trip to its two dams. The Aswan Low Dam, the first ever built across the Nile, was the work of British colonialists. The Aswan High Dam, built in the 1960s, created Lake Nasser. That dam has controlled the Nile’s tendency to flood horrifically; it also increased agricultural land by 50% and provides much of Aswan with electricity. However, the Aswan High Dam also lead to an increase in water loss through evaporation and provided an ideal breading ground for the deadly bilharzia parasite. Building the dam displaced 60,000 Nubian people—their history and plight can be explored in Aswan’s Nubian Museum across from the Basma Hotel.
Next, stroll along the Nile and observe life on its banks. You’ll quickly notice that the river provides more than drinking and farming water. It is also used for food, recreation, transportation and, too often, for sewage. Last month nearly 100 tons of gasoline spilled into the Nile forcing a temporary shot down of the city’s water filtration services.
Finally, head to the outskirts of town. Villagers there, mostly farmers, have to walk for miles each day to find water. This is not an unusual scene: across Africa women walk over 40 billion hours each year carrying cisterns weighing up to 18 kilograms to gather water, which is usually still not safe to drink.
Some solutions to Aswan’s water issues are relatively easy, such more conservation and less water-intensive farming practices. Other solutions will require investment and time. Groups like Water.org are fortunately working on those now, creating a Aswan that can thrive for another few millennia.
So, travel to Aswan. Enjoy its ancient sights and modern life. And, while there, maybe keep your showers short.
This post is part of Change.org’s Blog Action Day, which in 2010 focused on the scarcity of clean drinking water suffered by nearly 1 billion of your fellow human souls on this planet. As a traveler one an easy yet effective action you can take is to travel with your own water bottle. Here’s our review of the best travel water bottles.
Aswan, Egypt Photos
[via Charlie Phillips]
Related posts from Spot Cool Stuff:
The Best BPA-Free Water Bottles
Adrere Amellal: Egypt’s Time-Forgotten Eco-Resort
The Thailand Temple Built From Recycled Beer Bottles
Reviews of iPhone and iPod Waterproof Cases
Samsung Reclaim: The Free Smartphone Made From Corn
Inexpensive, Environmentally-Friendly Website Hosts