Over 30 years ago, Mansour Mahdy and his family migrated from Dakhla Oasis to Abu Minqar. They left a small piece of land back home, which Mansour had inherited from his father, to his seven brothers and their families for a bigger piece of land in the remote Abu Minqar region, offered by the government. He was the first person to settle there before 39 others joined him.
“There was no life at all. There was not even a commodity store there and transportation,” narrates Mansour. He says some companies were timidly coming to the oasis. They later failed and left the region.
“We would wait for a taxi for three days to go buy basic necessities,” notes the old man.
The only good thing in this region was the abundance of groundwater wells. “There were no mills or stoves for baking. No electric generators for six months.We made beds of barrels and wood pieces to avoid scorpions,” further narrates Mansour.
With time, the Ministry of Health allocated one ambulance and two paramedics to the oasis. “They were transferring the persons bitten by scorpions for treatment in Dakhla Oasis, but many died on the way,” recalls Mansour
He says slowly Abu Minqar started to bustle with life; someone built a flour mill, although bakeries were built ten years later. According to Mansour, the introduction of bakeries excited women that baked bread almost daily.
And there was a challenge of poor sanitation, according to Wafaa, Mansour's sister-in- law. “We would carry laundry water on our shoulders and dump it outside,” Wafaa says
The women used firewood to cook and sent their children to Dakhla Oasis, about 185 km from home, for education as there were no schools. After returning home, the students used gas lamps to revise at night.
After the 2011 Revolution, a diesel generator was extended to this oasis to supply power only at night. But residents grumbled and called for an end to the load-shedding.
he situation improved somewhat with the introduction of solar power in the oasis, enabling homes to have power supply for 20 hours a day.
The first electrical device bought by Mansour Mahdy’s family 15 years ago was a small refrigerator. Now , his house has all the essential electrical appliances.
The government of former President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak established Abu Minqar village as part of the initiative to reconstruct and develop the desert in 1987. It then provided fossil fuel power generators to pump water for the residents from the 101 groundwater wells.
But after establishing the solar power stations in the area, financing and maintenance of the 101 wells were stopped by the Abu Minqar local authorities, arguing this was wasting and draining state resources.
Unfortunately, the poor farmers had to bear the regular maintenance and fueling of the diesel generators in addition to incurring losses whenever there was a failure in power generation.
This forced some of them, Badr Saad Atia inclusive, to initiate alternative solutions. And this is how the idea of using the sun's energy to power a pump that supplies water to homes and farms started and spread across the village.
“We only press the start button, and water flows,” noted Badr, insisting that, “despite the high cost of building solar water pumping systems, this method is cheaper compared with the diesel-powered pumps that face constraints such as fuel and daily maintenance.”
Over the years, farmers came together and pooled resources to build shared solar power stations, enabling them to overcome the high cost of establishing such stations.
Just like the size of Abu Minqar village, its solar power station is not big, almost half a megawatt, but this has not stopped it from powering this remote oasis on the edge of the Great Sand Sea, giving it a new life.
Dr. Mohamed Alkhayat
The chairman of New and Renewable Energy Authority