Tuesday,22 May, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)
Tuesday,22 May, 2018
Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Trespassing on Egypt’s nature reserves?

Mahmoud Bakr reports on an environmental stand-off between MPs and the Ministry of Environment

The Petrified Forest
The Petrified Forest

Controversy arose under the dome of parliament in Cairo recently when member of the House of Representatives Sherine Farrag requested that a committee meeting be held to question Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmi on corruption charges regarding the ministry’s upkeep of the country’s nature reserves and a possible waste of public money.

Farrag based her request on a Central Auditing Agency report detailing the results of financial monitoring of the state’s administrative bodies from July 2015 to June 2016. Her questions regarded the possible waste of public money in selling and redefining the borders of Egypt’s nature reserves.

She referred to a possible violation of Article 45 of the 2014 constitution, which states that “the State shall protect its seas, shores, lakes, waterways and natural protectorates. Trespassing, polluting or misusing any of them is prohibited. Every citizen is guaranteed the right to enjoy them. The State shall protect and develop green spaces in urban areas; preserve plant, animal and fish resources and protect those under the threat of extinction or in danger; and guarantee the humane treatment of animals, according to the law.”

She accused Fahmi of signing a deal with the Maadi Company for Real Estate Development according to which the borders of the Wadi Degla nature reserve would be redrawn to benefit New Degla, a project managed by the company. She also accused him of wasting LE89 million of public money each year on an administrative building given by the company to the ministry in the Fustat area of Cairo.

Fahmi told Al-Ahram Weekly that, “the government wasn’t notified with the questioniong. Nor was I.”

Prime Minister Ismail Sherif issued Decree 2953/2015 after Fahmi had presented him with modifications on the borders of the Wadi Degla reserve to make it smaller. Wadi Degla was declared a nature reserve under Decree 3056/1999.

Farrag explained that the minister of environment had modified the borders of the Wadi Degla nature reserve to exclude more than 40 feddans of land worth close to LE1 billion due to the area’s location in Maadi.

She said that the deal was in favour of the Maadi Company for Real Estate Development, an Egyptian joint stock company, in return for a residential building owned by the company and allocated to the Ministry of Environment in Fustat at a monthly rent of a mere LE1.

Farrag added that Fahmi had done something similar with the Petrified Forest nature reserve, also in Maadi. Even the loss of one metre of this area would be a loss to humanity, she said. The Petrified Forest is located 18km east of Maadi on the Qattamiya-Ain Sokhna Road. Located on an area of seven square km, it is a rare geological site, and the study of its petrified wood has helped in the study of ancient life on earth. It was declared a nature reserve under Decree 944/1989.

Citing Law 102/1983 on the country’s nature reserves, Farrag referred to articles 2 and 3 of the law, according to which “it is forbidden to commit actions (deeds or activities or undertakings) which will lead to the destruction or deterioration of the natural environment or harm the biota (terrestrial, marine or fresh water), or which will detract from the aesthetic (beauty) standards within protected areas.”

“In particular, the following acts are forbidden: catching, transporting, killing, or disturbing wildlife; damaging or removing any living organisms or natural features and resources, such as shells, corals, rocks, or soil for any purpose; damaging or removing plants from the protected areas: spoiling or destroying the geological structures (and other features) of areas serving as natural habitats and breeding areas for plants and animals; introducing foreign (non-indigenous) species of biota into the protected area; polluting the soil, water, or air of the protected areas in any manner.”

 “It is also forbidden to erect buildings and establishments, pave roads, drive vehicles, or undertake any agriculture, industrial, or commercial activities in the protected areas except with the permission of the concerned Administrative Body and restrictions specified by Prime Ministerial Decree.”

Farrag added that, according to the same law, “it is forbidden to undertake activities or experiments in areas surrounding designated reserves, which could have an effect on the environment and nature, except with the permission of the concerned Administrative Body.”

As a result of the sacrifice of land from the Petrified Forest nature reserve, the Ministry of Housing and Population had paid LE50 million to the Ministry of Environment in preparation for selling the land to Egyptian expatriates in dollars, Farrag said.

She added that Fahmi intended to construct “a gym, a spa and camps” in the Wadi Degla reserve, given its location close to the residential areas of the Fifth Settlement and Nasr City.

Fahmi said that it was impossible to sell nature reserves in Egypt because they were public property, and according to the country’s environmental laws the ministry could not sell them. However, the ministry had the right to issue permits for activities in the vicinity of the reserves as long as these were environmentally friendly and were held outside the reserves, he said.

The development of Egypt’s nature reserves, he pointed out, was based around programmes that help support the infrastructure and advance visitor services, these in turn helping to sustain and support the management of the nature reserves and assist local communities and the tourism sector.

Fahmi added that some LE50 million had been allocated by the Ministry of Housing and Population to build a geological museum in the Petrified Forest reserve according to the highest environmental standards.

During the parliamentary session on plans to develop the nature reserves of Wadi Degla, the Petrified Forest and Wadi Al-Rayan, which was attended by MPs, media figures and representatives of civil society, Fahmi explained that ways of protecting the country’s nature reserves by allowing activities that do not negatively affect them or their riches should be explored.

He added that the plans would start in the three reserves mentioned, since they were close to residential areas and were most prone to infringements.

The mission of the nature reserves had evolved to include touristic and environmentally sustainable activities, in addition to their basic roles as protectors of the country’s natural resources, he said. This had caused the ministry to develop its strategy to manage the reserves in order to catch up with international developments in the field.

The country’s natural and heritage resources were national treasures that required efforts on a national scale to protect, manage and sustain them, Fahmi stated. Together with a number of national and international bodies, the Ministry of Environment had developed effective programmes to protect and develop these resources, he added, and investing in developing the resources of the reserves would help lift the financial burden of these areas off the state’s shoulders and find further money for research on how to further protect the country’s natural riches.

The reserves of Qaroun, Al-Amid and Al-Burollos were next on the agenda of the ministry, Fahmi said. He added that various challenges faced nature reserves in Egypt, among them the infringements on their areas due to the economic value of their locations.

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