Sunday,17 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)
Sunday,17 February, 2019
Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Escaping poverty

Neglected for years, Upper Egypt is finally making an appearance on the government’s investment and development map, writes Reem Leila


Al-Sisi inaugurated the new Assiut Barrage via a video conference this week
Al-Sisi inaugurated the new Assiut Barrage via a video conference this week

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi this week inaugurated a number of national projects in the Upper Egyptian governorates of Assiut, Sohag and Beni Sweif, with a combined worth of more than LE900 million.

The projects inaugurated via a video conference included the new Assiut Barrage and hydroelectric plant, a cement plant at Beni Sweif and the Sohag Museum.

In a press release Presidential Spokesman Bassam Radi said the president has placed the development of Upper Egyptian governorates at the top of his agenda.

“The government intends to implement major development and infrastructure projects in Upper Egypt,” said Radi.

The new Assiut Barrage will include four turbines and cost LE747 million. Minister of Electricity Mohamed Shaker says the hydroelectric plant has been designed to generate up to 245 million megawatts of electricity using pumped-storage technology. The project is being implemented in cooperation with Chinese governmental hydropower engineering company Sinohydro.

“The consultancy contract for the project has been granted to French engineering company Artelia and it will be completed within seven years,” said Shaker.

The Assiut Barrage will serve the governorates of Assiut, Minya, Beni Sweif, Fayoum and Giza.

“In addition to generating electricity the project will also contribute to the improvement of irrigation over 1.6 million feddans and improve river navigation and traffic flows. The bridge on top of the barrage will comprise four lanes linking the east and west banks of the Nile.”

The Sohag Museum will display more than 1,000 archaeological artefacts across 8,000 square metres of exhibition space. The museum was built at a cost of LE72 million.

The Beni Sweif cement plant is expected to create 1,800 new jobs on top of the 8,000 indirect job opportunities being targeted by the comprehensive development plan for Upper Egypt.

“The three poorest governorates in Egypt — Sohag, Assiut and Minya — are all in Upper Egypt. More than 50 per cent of residents live in poverty,” says Magdi Sobhi, an economist at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “Upper Egypt requires sustained attention from the government, especially in the industrial field.”

“The recent interest in developing Upper Egypt is a positive step, though the government still has to encourage national and international investors to invest there,” says Sobhi.

For decades industrial investment has been concentrated in Cairo, Alexandria and the Delta.

Of the 1,000 poorest villages in the country 94 per cent are in Upper Egypt, says economist Heba Handoussa.

“Upper Egyptian governorates suffer from a paucity of agricultural land. Agricultural work is, by its nature, seasonal and does not secure a permanent or regular income. Also, women in Upper Egypt are hampered in accessing work by customs and traditions,” says Handoussa.

The government, according to Sobhi, also needs to work on improving the region’s road networks to make the transport of goods between Upper Egypt governorates and the rest of the country more streamlined.

“Improved transportation will increase the ability of Upper Egyptian producers to access foreign and Arab markets,” says Sobhi.

He argues that investment should focus more on industrial and touristic projects rather than agriculture given the limited amount of land that can be cultivated.

By providing permanent job opportunities for young people industrial development will “help the government to deal with terrorism as a lot of hardliners and terrorists come from underdeveloped and poor Upper Egypt governorates,” says Sobhi.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity has already identified the poorest villages in Upper Egypt and is developing their infrastructure through sewage and electricity generating projects, says Handoussa.

The Takaful (Solidarity) Programme, which the government has initiated in Upper Egypt, provides financial aid to families for three successive years to encourage them to enrol their children in schools, is making inroads, says Handoussa. “And at the end of the three years families can shift to the “Forsa” (Chance) programme under which mothers can access job opportunities and help supplement family incomes.”

But there is still work to be done to encourage the private sector to invest in Upper Egypt, notes Handoussa, though “for the first time in history China will import Upper Egyptian products.”

Next month Handoussa will travel with a group of small Upper Egyptian producers to present their wares to the Chinese market. 

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