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First Lady Announces Egypt Grant

March 25, 1999

LUXOR, Egypt (AP) _ Water is turning Egypt’s ancient wonders and modern tourist attractions _ the great pylon gateways of Karnak Temple, the colossi of Ramses II _ from stone to sand.

The United States, represented here this week by Hillary Rodham Clinton, is giving Egypt $45 million for a wastewater system in Luxor. Archeologists hope the improved treatment of wastewater will not only improve the health and safety of today’s people but also retard damage to yesterday’s treasures.

The first lady, traveling with her daughter Chelsea, was announcing the grant at a school here this morning before going on to Tunisia.

Water damage has been a recurrent theme at each of Mrs. Clinton’s stops since she arrived in Egypt on Sunday _ from the rotted foundation of a 10th-century church in Cairo’s Coptic quarter, to the salt residue threatening the brilliant colors of King Tut’s tomb.

``You do have a lot of problems with groundwater that I didn’t really understand until I was preparing for this trip,″ Mrs. Clinton told conservationists in Cairo at the start of her 12-day tour.

Archeologists say Egyptian tombs and temples that have survived for thousands of years are actually very fragile because of a rising water table. The problem was exacerbated in 1970 by the construction of the new High Dam on the Nile south of Luxor.

Higher groundwater is constantly absorbed into the sandstone walls of the temples, trapping salts in the stone that crystallize and gradually slough away the outer layer of the structures.

``Before, dryness preserved everything,″ said Ray Johnson, an American preservation expert working here. ``Today, Egypt is getting wetter, there are more people, more irrigation, and saltwater eventually turns stone to sand.″

Over the past 20 years, the United States, through the Agency for International Development, has provided nearly $3 billion for the water and wastewater systems of Egypt.

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