For millennia, Siwans have constructed their homes with kershef, a traditional building material of mud, sand and sun-dried salt harvested from the oasis’s salt lakes.
In addition to blending in harmoniously with the surrounding environment, kershef acts as a natural insulator, keeping indoor air temperatures mild in both hot and cold seasons. Strategically placed windows channel the dry desert breeze, producing energy-free air conditioning for especially hot conditions.
In recent decades, however, the art of kershef has been disappearing as builders increasingly use cement. While cheaper for building, this construction method is inappropriate to such a desert climate: it conducts hot and cold extremes rather than insulating against them, requiring wasteful electric-powered air conditioning to temper its effects; and it threatens to wipe out an ancient Siwan technique that has been passed down from one generation to the next for thousands of years.
The Sustainable Development Initiative is working to ensure the future of this environmentally friendly Siwan craft through several kershef ecolodges in Siwa, and by helping Siwans secure the resources and expertise to build in kershef themselves.