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Algeria - Field Trip in the Desert

1996, by Farida Khammar , Thérèse Gernigon-Spychalowicz

A Prize for the Best (1)

Béni-Abbès, an enchanting oasis located in the wilaya of Béchar, in Algeria, has been the site for almost ten years now of an Ecology Class set up on the initiative of a scientific and educational team whose maxim is «arid zones: to know them better is better to protect them». This research team’s main objective is to obtain better knowledge of the Saharan environment and its conservation, with, of course, the help of educational and scientific material.
The project initiators feel it is important for activities organizers, teachers, students, and also the general public to take responsibility for the scientific knowledge acquired through the ecological and physiological study of both animal and plant Saharan species. Their conviction is that this educational process will ensure environmental conservation.
The project involves hosting teachers and students wishing to know the adaptation mechanisms at work in the Saharan context. Activities are organized by biology teachers from Béni-Abbès or other oases, and research staff from other stations.

The work program consists in producing educational panels, constituting transparency, photography, and video-film libraries, and publishing documents addressed to children. It includes a museum, a zoo, and a botanical garden. A botanical workshop was also organized from the palm grove to the Béni-Abbès Ksar. In addition, the Ecology Class also starts up surveys and competitions, and conducts on-site training courses with facilitators from different wilayas.
After about ten years, the work accomplished by the Ecology Class was the subject of a book, La Vie animale dans le désert : Zoorawa de Béni-Abbès (animal life in the desert), which addresses educational circles, with the contribution of the Béni-Abbès station research staff and teachers in the region.
To support the production of the «Arid Zone Educational Hall» the Environmental Education Department, together with the United Nations bureau in Algiers took part in the organization of a three-day field trip on 1-3 April 1996, at the outcome of which an encouragement trophy was awarded.

Field Trip in the Desert on «Health and Water» (2)

Day-by-day description
The first day opened with a slide show prepared by the Biology Club, which presented the water, and the local plant and animal life, underscoring the dangers of desertification and scarcity to which this fragile Saharan ecosystem is exposed. The show, put together and commented by the children themselves gave the children the opportunity to show what they had learned in the course of their usual activities at the Arid Zone Educational Hall.
After the official opening, the Arid Zone Educational Hall was inaugurated on the premises of the Museum of the Research Station of the Arid Zone Research Unit. The exhibition displayed first the history and the objectives of the hall. In the hall itself, the Biology Club activities were presented with a display of photos taken in the course of the activities (drawing competitions, slide shows, a book in the printing, and video films). In the adjoining courtyard, the panels on display were devoted to water in the region and the importance of saving it and maintaining it pure. The children were asked to tell the story of the drop of water. Other panels showed photos on the local plant life and especially on the animal life in this arid environment, as well as on the topic of breeding, which had been studied several times by the children. Cultural heritage was not forgotten, and a photo display of the old Ksar closed the exhibition.
These exhibitions remained open to the public for the duration of the three days; the Educational Hall exhibition was managed particularly by the young social-network persons working at the station in the breeding section, and by university biology students on vacation.
From 5 to 9 p.m., the first roundtable on the topic «Health and Water», intended especially for children, was moderated by the Prevention and Hygiene Service of the Béni-Abbès Hospital Sector. It featured a short lecture on water-borne diseases and the preventive measures to avoid them. In Béni-Abbès, cases of intestinal amoebiasis are the most commonly found. During the discussion, the children’s many questions raised the problems of protection standards, of what becomes of waste water, and of the problem of the pollution of groundwater, underscoring the importance of the Prevention Service, which needs to maintain continuous control over the septic tanks.

The morning of the second day was devoted to the Drawing Competition inaugurated by the United Nations representative and the Chief of Daira, proposed and prized by the State Secretariat for Environment and organized by the Béni-Abbès art teachers. Forty-two children were to draw what they thought of water in their environment. The teachers graded the drawings, of undeniable quality as a whole, in view of establishing a placing for winning the awards.
In the afternoon, the biology museum was inaugurated: this exhibition had been entirely prepared by the teachers and the Biology Club. The show featured great variety (scale-model of a biological water-treatment station, display of the local plant and animal life, exhibition of the prehistoric fossils and tools of the region, local craft, etc.), and appeared with the children’s commentaries, demonstrating that the children had become capable of transmitting the message to other children, as to adults.
The visit, richly commented upon by the Béni-Abbès Tourist Office and organized by the President of the Association of Solidarity for the Progress and Development of Béni-Abbès, introduced the visitors to the history of the old ksar and the irrigation problems of the palm grove (old balance-wheel well, palm trees and gardens, etc.).
From 7 to 9 p.m., the roundtable on «Water and Desertification» was coordinated by the General Secretariat for Environment. It was moderated by speakers from the Hydraulic Department of the Béchar wilaya. The large audience, which was made up of very different types of people (local authorities, academics, students, doctors, fellahs, private individuals) who showed great interest in the history of the water in the region and in the different possible methods for purifying waste water, asked numerous questions demonstrating how sensitive it was to this crucial problem of water scarcity in Béni-Abbès.

The third day was the actual field trip. Together with the United Nations guests, authorities, local organizations, and their teacher, the Biology Club was able to explore in the field the different biotopes they had previously studied (erg, reg, oued, palm grove, djebel). The geological and podological explanations were provided on the field at Marhouma by specialists; the functioning of the solar pump of the Marhouma well was described. The group was then shown the rupestrine carvings and was given explanations on the future Marhouma dam, for which a feasibility study has already been made. On the way back the group stopped at the Tamtert site and at km. 30, where the so-called «Carboniferous Wall of China» is found, which is a deposit unique for the size of the fossil molluscs, which are part of a world heritage to be protected. The Hydraulic specialists confirmed that there was a threat of industrial exploitation, which was just recently requested once again, and refused by them. And yet, the site is protected, so it is important to remain vigilant. The trip ended on a visit of the seismic cave, with a commentary by the person in charge of the research station.
The three-day event was concluded with singing, dances, and routines prepared by the children, followed by the awarding of the Environment Cup to the Béni-Abbès Arid Zone Educational Hall Biology Club. Then prizes were distributed to the children for the drawing competition and to the boy-scouts having taken part in the organization. Western Saharan children closed the affair with a final concert in a tribute to Algeria.

- Environmental conservation, and more particularly the Saharan ecosystem is everyone’s responsibility: research workers, teachers, pupils, the general public. The scientific knowledge acquired through ecological and physiological research on Saharan animal and plant life, must be passed on to activities organizers (secondary- and even primary-school teachers) who can provide «environmental education», which should be part of the culture. The creation of a natural park at the Béni-Abbès level would facilitate such environmental conservation and education.
- Awareness campaigns regarding vital problems should be first directed to the school population, then the general public. In the Saharan zone, water management and saving (general policy, supply methods, cost recovery, etc.), draught- and water-scarcity-related desertification problems, and water-related health problems are a priority. For the Béni-Abbès region, given the minimal water resources, it is recommended to exploit surface water. The evaporation problem requires a study on the dikes, underground dams, and reservoirs. There is a proposal for the installation of a biological purification lake station. Seventy percent of the source should be reserved exclusively as potable water. The development of drip by drip in farming should be encouraged.
Awareness campaigns by the Sanitary Prevention services and the Hydraulic services, with well-defined action programs, should be conducted on a regular basis in agreement with local authorities.
- An integrated sustainable-development project should associate partners in education, scientific research, hydraulics, agriculture, and health. A proposal for a thinking-session calendar should begin under the auspices of local authorities.

(1) Article by F. Zohra: «Classe verte dans le désert. Un prix pour les meilleurs», published in the daily Le Soir in Algiers, 26 March 1996.
(2) Report by Farida Khammar and Thérèse Gernigon-Spychalowicz: «Classe verte dans le désert», Algiers, 14 April 1996.

KEY WORDS: Environmental Education, School; Nature; Protection of Environment.
AUTHOR: Farida Khammar & Thérèse Gernigon-Spychalowicz, Salle Pédagogique des Zones Arides, Unité de Recherche des Zones Arides (U.R.Z.A.), 08300 Béni-Abbès, Algeria, Tel.: 213 / 7 / 82 32 84