National Strategy for Low-Cost Water Harvesting Techniques: Case Study from Saint Catherine, South Sinai

Countries: Egypt
Level: National
Region: MENA Region
Tags: Adaptation measure | Agriculture | Planning & Policy | Stakeholder involvement
Target audience: Local government/municipalities

Achieving sustainable development goals in Egypt is always subject to the availability, or scarcity, of water resources. Most communities in the Sinai Peninsula settle near natural springs and areas with access to flood waters. However, the non-uniform distribution of rainfall over these areas and lack of groundwater in some regions are the main reasons that most settlements are for a short duration. Hence, these communities frequently migrate, looking for other sources of water. Rainwater harvesting can be introduced to encourage more permanent settlement, especially within areas that offer the greatest potential for water harvesting The South Sinai is characterised by its high mountains (e.g. the Saint Catherine, Dahab and Nuweiba areas). These mountains have low-lying areas between their peaks that accumulate water for storage — so-called mountain lakes. 

This project, which relies mainly on stakeholder participation (e.g. from Bedouins), exploits severe flash flooding to increase water resources. The water stored in the mountain lakes can be transported to the Bedouin settlements, after which the stored water can be integrated with groundwater to cultivate medicinal herbs.

Approximately 192 mountain lakes were constructed to store rainwater and floods, in addition to digging wells. The stored water was then used for cultivation and domestic use in the study area, which helps Bedouins to settle. The ‘mountainous lakes’ design was carried out by a WRRI research team, and the process of lakes construction was carried out in multiple phases by the National Water Research Centre and the Arab Organisation for Agricultural Development. Also, an agricultural plan was developed that involved the construction of lakeside greenhouses to better integrate surface water and groundwater. 

Results obtained

  • Total of 192 mountain lakes were constructed between 2011 and 2016. Heavy rainwater was harvested where each lake can store about between 1,000 and 5,000 m3 of water. Greenhouses produced vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers for sale at the market. Also, complete training was carried out for people in the study area to increase their participation in greenhouse and land cultivation.

Success factors

  • Stakeholder participation is considered the main success factor, including the stakeholder’s selection of the initial location of the lakes (the WRRI followed up with an inspection of the lake sites from a scientific and hydrologic point of view). The stakeholders also carried out maintenance work related to sedimentation and optimising lake capacity.
  • WRRI has in-depth experience in hydrology and rainwater harvesting techniques in Egypt and other countries (Arab, and African countries) for sustainable development.
  • NWRC and other donors contributed with financial support.

Indicators used

  • Number of implemented lakes: 192
  • Amount of harvested water: about 300,000 m3 per year
  • Year-round water sustainability, based on integration of harvested water and groundwater, the latter being mainly recharged from rainfall
  • Income levels for local stakeholders from vegetable and herb cultivation 

This approach can be replicated in similar arid and semi-arid zones in the Arab countries. 

Total costs

  • EUR 30,000 for study and project preparation
  • EUR 2,500 for greenhouse construction and cultivation
  • EUR 107,500 for lake implementation