Marked in more than 150 countries annually on 5 June, World Environment Day (WED) was held this year under the theme of “Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.”
With Pakistan being the global host in 2021, Egypt is celebrating the occasion with the slogan “restoring the ecosystem for the sake of nature” by arranging a series of events nationwide to raise awareness about biodiversity and people’s role in protecting nature and renewable resources.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the way the WED is being marked this year, with many activities being held online to encourage action for the environment. Egypt launched a marine conservation campaign this week in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to sound the alarm on marine issues and to build a better future for the coming generations.
The campaign is part of Eco Egypt, launched in September 2020 to promote 13 Egyptian nature reserves in its first phase.
The marine conservation campaign focuses on preserving the biodiversity of the Red Sea, protecting natural resources, and ensuring their sustainability in conjunction with the economic and social development of the region, the local population, and those working in the ecotourism sector to achieve sustainable development, said Yasmine Fouad, the minister of environment.
She added that the campaign includes launching a series of awareness videos and posters warning against the effects of harmful practices on the marine environment. The awareness material will be displayed at airports, tourist facilities, hotels, and diving centres.
The campaign will also see public billboards showing how individual practices can harm marine species while introducing simple ways in which people can protect and restore ecosystems, Fouad stated.
The billboards are being arranged in collaboration between the project to integrate biodiversity into ecotourism, represented by the ministries of the environment, tourism, and civil aviation, the Egyptian Hotels Association, and the Chamber of Diving and Water Sports.
Fouad stressed the necessity of working together to restore the balance of Egypt’s ecosystems, citing a report by the UN Commission on Ecosystem Management saying that people the world over have used up 75 per cent of land, that 85 per cent of wetlands are degraded, and 85 per cent of fresh water exploited.
The report says that Africa needs $490 billion annually to restore its ecosystems.
Egypt’s campaign focuses on the marine environment because it has not received its fair share of attention, Fouad said, explaining that 12 per cent of the terrestrial environment had been declared nature reserves, while only one per cent of the marine environment was designated as a protected area.
The minister added that 60 per cent of the marine environment faces the danger of degradation, while 30 per cent has already been lost. She attributed this to harmful practices, such as overfishing.
Thirteen per cent of fishing encroachments have affected fish stocks, Fouad said, adding that from 1980 to 2005, 35,000 square km of mangrove trees had been removed. These figures had prompted Egypt, in its capacity as chair of the 14th Conference of the Parties for Biological Diversity, to launch a campaign to protect the marine environment, she said.
Emadeddin Adli, national director of the Small Grants Programme (SGP) administered on behalf of the government, said the WED not only called for preserving ecological systems, but also for restoring damaged environments.
The SGP has offered funds to many environmental projects in Egypt, especially those concerned with biodiversity, limiting the effects of climate change, protecting international waters, decreasing soil degradation, and banning the use of organic pollutants, he stated.
Adli referred to a project to develop solid-waste management systems to support environmental tourism in Fayoum. The project is being funded by the SGP and implemented by the Ecotourism Development Association as part of the programme’s sixth phase.
Magdi Allam Amin, secretary-general of the Federation of Arab Environmental Experts, said there were 48 nature reserves in Egypt, adding that these had witnessed increased interest over the past two years, particularly the Ras Mohamed Reserve in Sinai and the Wadi Al-Hitan Reserve in Fayoum.
Bird-watching is a prominent activity in Egypt that draws tourists from different parts of the world, Amin said, stating that 26 million migrant birds visit Egypt annually.
Preserving the environment and biodiversity is no longer a luxury, Amin said, and it has become necessary to manage ecosystems in a sustainable manner to protect humanity and the planet.
He said that the WED was an opportunity to remind the world that there was a real opportunity to preserve the balance of Earth, especially with Covid-19 wreaking havoc on people’s lives.
Sami Zalat, a professor of biodiversity at Suez Canal University, explained that deserts make up 96 per cent of Egypt’s land, while pointing out that the country has 143 biologically diverse species, more than 1,200 species of fish, and over 350 species of coral that protect specific types of marine organisms.
Zalat added that 62 per cent of cancer treatments had been found in nature, emphasising the direct value of it to human health. The world has also designated 20 May as World Bee Day to acknowledge the contribution made by bees, responsible for the pollination of nearly three-quarters of plants around the world that produce 90 per cent of the world’s food, he said.
About 120 million people live around mangrove swamps that purify water, protect beaches, and act as a refuge for marine creatures, Zalat said, also warning that bird-hunting could lead to an increase in insects and flies.
Bird-watching generates a global revenue of up to $40 billion, Zalat said, concluding that each dollar spent to restore the ecosystem could return a 30-fold increase in economic benefits, notably in Egypt.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly