Sunday, August 14, 2011

Think Green vs. Think Development

Egypt Today (Farida Helmy)

Egypt is a naturalist’s dream. With oceans, oases, deserts and mountains a plenty, you would think eco-tourism would be big here. Much of the nation’s touristic income, however, comes from traditional, block hotel rooms that often do more damage to the environment than highlight it. There is a constant tug-of-war between resort developers and environmentalists over the best way to promote tourism and create jobs in areas noted for natural beauty.

The latest battleground is the Fayoum governorate, home to two natural protectorates since 1989. The environmental NGO Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE) and Fayoum-based NGO Friends of Lake Qarun are going after local real estate developer Amer Group over its 2.8-million-square meter Porto Fayoum project. With the North Coast’s Porto Marina and the Red Sea’s Porto Sokhna already under its belt, Amer Group has plans to develop a 10-kilometer stretch of coastal land with another 13 developers along the northern part of Lake Qarun — a project that will generate employment in an impoverished part of the country.

The problem, environmentalists say, is that it endangers the Lake Qarun Protected Area and Gebel Qattrani, a desert filled with archaeological and geological remains that was proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.

While the layman in Fayoum would probably welcome the idea of a project bringing in income and job opportunity to the quiet governorate, experts are far less eager. Fayoum is Egypt’s oldest city and is located 130 kilometers southwest of Cairo. It is also home to the 1385-square-kilometer Lake Qarun. The North of the Lake Qarun area has been a protected area since the 1980s, and its boundaries have expanded gradually to include Gebel Qattrani.

Still an unspoiled wilderness, the north shore of Lake Qarun is a haven for bird migration; it is classified under BirdLife as an Important Bird Area (IBA), or an area that holds priority in conservation. It also contains one of the world’s most complete fossil records, according to UNESCO, which includes one of the world’s best preserved fossilized whales and Neolithic sites that reveal the evolution of the use of the stone tool artifacts.

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