One of the lowest areas on earth covers almost 20,000 square miles in northwestern Egypt. The Qattara Depression is the biggest of its kind in the world and has the second lowest point in Africa at 436 feet. Its teardrop-shaped depression has 919 feet of steep walls. This sinkhole depression has its origin during the Neogene Period due to fluvial and wind erosion. Only a small population of 300 people inhabit its western area, the Qara oasis, due to the quicksand-like terrain of the other areas. About 12.5 miles from the depression are two other smaller similar sinkholes where the Jaghbub and Siwa oasis are located. The nomadic Bedouins herd their livestock as they pass the Moghra Oasis, utilizing it for their water and grazing needs.
In 1917, a British army officer was requested by Dr. Ball to take measurements of the steep escarpments of the Qattara Depression. The figures seemed amazing that in 1924 and 1925 Dr. Ball had British surveyor G.F. Walpole take another measurement. Walpole returned with the same earlier measurements in 1917. Then, in the mid-1920s and 1930s, a British military commander, Ralph Alger Bagnold, made crossings of the east to west sides of the Qattara in Ford Model-T vehicles. These forays added to the geological knowledge of the depression sinkholes. The Qattara was also the site of the El-Alamein Battles during World War II. The German and British military also patrolled the area. Later, the Axis and Allied forces each delineated their respective defenses in the area, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Qattara.
In 1912, a German geographer named Professor Penck suggested that the Qattara Depression could be used for hydro electric power generation. Then in 1927, Dr. Ball expounded more on the same theme. Even the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency broached the subject to then President Eisenhower as a way of solving the Middle East peace dilemma. One of the benefits would be to establish a Palestinian settlement in the area during the development phase of the project. This would also serve as a solution to Egypt's energy problems. However, the project did not take off at all. Today, there are several foreign companies with oil drilling fields in the area.
Habitat and Biodiversity
Habitat and biodiversity in the Qattara Depression is linked to its origin during the Neogene Period. Its salt marshes, salt pans, and sand dunes are uninhabited. The flora consists of Acacia groves scattered in sandy areas and reed swamps. The oases areas have wild palm groves and scrub lands. Wetlands are spread across it, with Dorcas Gazelles populating them, which in turn serve as food for the limited numbers of the endangered cheetahs found only in these areas, and nowhere else in Egypt. Additional animals in the area are sheep, foxes, jackals, and hares. The hartebeests, addaxes, and oryxes, which used to roam the area, are now extinct.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
The Qattara Depression is located inside Egypt, and remains as part of that country. However, during World War II the Germans had set up defenses in the area to try to defeat the British Army and push it out of Egypt. Then, later on the Allied and Axis forces also set up their respective militaries from the Mediterranean Sea into the Qattara area. This included an extensive mine field that exists to the present that has hurt many local people who travel through the area. After World War II, there were some continued support for the hydroelectric power project proposed before the war, but nothing came out of it.