INTERVIEW: Hand-in-hand to support development

Doaa El-Bey , Friday 10 Jun 2022

In his first interview since taking office, UNDP Resident Representative in Egypt Alessandro Fracassetti explains to Al-Ahram Weekly the organisation’s efforts to support Egypt in its development projects, including on adapting to climate change and improving environmental protection.

Alessandro Fracassetti


Since he assumed office in November last year, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Egypt Alessandro Fracassetti has been busy with plans to help Egypt face up to climate change and the shift to a green economy.

Last weekend, and in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, he took part in launching the Scaling Up Climate Ambition on Land Use and Agriculture (SCALA) programme in Egypt, which over the next three years aims to support transformative climate action in land use and strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change in 12 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  

A few days earlier, he joined the ministers of environment and tourism, Yasmine Fouad and Khaled El-Enany, in launching new guidelines to strengthen green development in Egypt’s tourism sector.  

The launch of Egypt’s National Strategy for Climate Change 2050 last month was also hailed by Fracassetti as a way of planning long term to deal with climate change. This is a must, he said, which is why it is imperative to have a national strategy.

Nearly half the global population is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels, increased droughts, and more intense weather events, and climate change worldwide could drive an additional 100 million people into poverty. It is therefore essential that all nations have long-term strategies.

These can serve as a compass or direction for countries to commit to certain goals like decoupling economic growth from the use of fossil fuels, he said. In Egypt, the UNDP is proud to have supported the Ministry of Environment in drafting such a strategy, he added.   

“It is an important milestone to show Egypt’s commitment to climate action right before the COP27 meeting in November,” Fracassetti said.

He pinpointed a couple of points about the strategy itself. First, it provides a guide for different sectors, important for mobilising resources from national and international partners for climate action. Any organisation Egypt approaches for funding in its efforts to face climate change will want to see the planning or directions in the related sector, he noted.  

Second, it reflects the government’s commitment to joining the global efforts to fight climate change and its adherence to the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) agreed on in the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, part of an action plan to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts.

Each of the Paris Agreement’s 192 signatories is required to establish NDCs and update the agreement’s secretariat every five years.

Asked about the role played by the UNDP in helping Egypt to counter the effects of climate change and facilitate access to sources of finance, especially in preparation for COP27, Fracassetti pointed to a number of projects that are currently being implemented with the government, on top of which is the installation of solar plants on rooftops.   

“We have installed solar plants on 129 buildings, including private and state-owned buildings,” he said. The UNDP is working on this project in 15 governorates with a total capacity of 11 Megawatts (MW) and a total saving of electricity to 17.6 Gigawatts (GW)/year.

It is also giving a hand to government plans to strengthen the finance and management systems of 19 protected areas across the country, including two in Sharm El-Sheikh, where COP27 will be held, Al-Naqb and Ras Mohamed.

In preparations for COP27, he added, the UNDP is helping with a number of projects in Sharm El-Sheikh including two hotels in which solar panels have already been installed and another eight that have signed contracts to install electricity-generating solar panels.   

There are 10 other hotels in the Red Sea resort that are waiting to sign similar contracts, in addition to installing solar power in Sharm El-Sheikh’s airport and main hospital. By focusing on Sharm El-Sheikh, Fracassetti said, the city could become a model of the energy transition in Egypt and set a good example for other cities to follow.

“We also support the Foreign Ministry with training, capacity building, best practices, and logistics to be able to be effective in preparation, negotiations and consultation during COP27,” he added.


Casting light on other longstanding projects in Egypt, Fracassetti pointed to the UNDP Nile Delta project. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change, wrote that the Nile Delta is one of the most vulnerable areas when it comes to sea level rises and extreme weather conditions.  

The region, Fracassetti said, accounts for more than half of Egypt’s economic activities through agriculture, industries, and fisheries, and it contributes 20 per cent of Egypt’s GDP. As a result, the government has worked with international partners to find solutions to protect the Delta’s vulnerable areas and the people whose lives might be affected.   

With the support of the UN’s green climate fund, Egypt started the widest adaptive programme in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to establish 70 km of a low-dike system to protect the low-lying land in the Delta from coastal flooding. It provides a nature-based solution that works with natural elements and helps protect the lives and livelihoods of over 17 million people as well as increasing the values of property.  

The UNDP also plays a role in helping the government to realise the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Fracassetti said that the SDGs require trillions of dollars to be implemented, so it is not possible for the government on its own to implement them and requires the support of the private sector.

The UNDP, he added, considers the SDGs as a whole, but it urges every government to set priorities according to its own needs. In Egypt’s case, the UNDP has focused on the area of fighting poverty in recent years.  

In doing so, it prioritises inclusive growth, which looks at vulnerable groups or those that are more at risk of being left behind. It supports the government in areas like job creation, addressing inequalities, and trying to ensure that no one is forgotten.   

One approach to creating jobs, Fracassetti explained, was made in partnership with the government and the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (MSMEDA) to provide financial and technical support for SMEs in Egypt. Through this partnership, the UNDP has managed to disburse LE2.9 million, which has helped 630,000 enterprises and created over 960 jobs. In 2019 alone, the partnership managed to create 260,000 jobs for some of the most vulnerable groups in society. The number is expected to reach 700,000 by the end of 2022.

Fracassetti also hailed Egypt’s Decent Life initiative “as one of the most ambitious development programmes that we know of from any government to address poor villages.”

Within the framework of the initiative, the UNDP is involved in two programmes. It has started an EU-funded programme with the Ministry of Local Development to pilot, modernise, and decentralise local administrative systems in four governorates, Fayoum, Beni Sweif, Luxor, and Aswan. The programme is worth seven million euros and covers a total of 33 districts. The first phase comprises nine districts that are included in the initiative. The majority of the remaining 24 districts will be included in the second and third phases.  

The other programme is being implemented with the Ministry of Social Solidarity to support the gender and social-protection component of the Takaful and Karama (Solidarity and Dignity) programmes to support vulnerable groups, especially women and people with disabilities, to get better access to social-protection services. The programme, funded by the EU and UK, included 585 women rural leaders who play an influential role in their communities.

They were trained within the framework of the Waai (Awareness) programme for community development, launched in 2020, that aims to enhance awareness and knowledge on issues like child marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), abandonment, health and education issues, the rights of the persons with disabilities (PwDs), and the economic empowerment of the poorest marginalised families.  

Another UNDP contribution is the long-standing programme that started in 2012 in collaboration with the Egyptian Network for Integrated Development (ENID), a NGO, and the ministry of international cooperation to develop viable and sustainable employment opportunities in Upper Egypt, especially for women.   

In a follow-up field visit, Fracassetti went to the Qena governorate two weeks ago within the framework of the programme. “The beneficiaries are mostly women, including those who work in garment factories and others who have opened their own small businesses. We help women start their businesses, train them, find funds for them, and connect them to the market,” he said.

He also mentioned UNDP cooperation with the National Council for Women (NCW). “Earlier this year, we produced together with UN Women and UNFPA the first report on women victims of violence in Egypt, he said, expressing the hope that this will be a reference work to policy-makers who cater for the needs of women and girls with disabilities.  


Asked whether the UNDP found some SDGs more challenging than others, Fracassetti reiterated that his organisation looks at them as a whole. The UNDP formulates Country Programme Documents (CPDs), five-year plans that guide it through what is most needed and what the government and other partners are requesting.

In the current CPD, running from 2018 to 2022, the UNDP looked at a number of priorities including eradicating poverty, SDG1, accelerating structural transformation and building resilience to crises and shocks so as to leave no one behind. This also means adaptation to climate change or anything to do with disaster prevention and dealing with the whole issue of resilience, he said.

Fracassetti said that the results of the current CPD will be revealed soon. The UNDP is currently preparing the next CPD from 2023 to 2027.  

With regard to strategic innovation and digital transformation, Fracassetti referred to UNDP administrator Achim Steiner’s words during the recent World Economic Forum in Davos. “Our future is digital; if you’re not part of it, you’re out of it,” Steiner said.

Thus, digitisation is not something that can be avoided, and it has an impact on all aspects of development. In Egypt, Fracassetti said, the UNDP has worked with the government on the process of digital transformation in the post office, serving millions of citizens. Some 5,000 branches that employ 50,000 staff were provided with internal audit functioning to improve risk and management systems.

The Yalla application was also launched to help people get access to their money online and perform other services. This project, he added, is very important in Egypt, given that nearly half the population does not have bank accounts.  

In the area of digitisation, together with the Ministry of Communication, Fracassetti explained, the UNDP has encouraged social entrepreneurship that has helped create new jobs with 25,000 SMEs and social entrepreneurs as well as improving their digital skills. These projects have already reached 30 million people through a range of online and offline services.  

The UNDP is the leading UN organisation fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Fracassetti, a national of Italy, started his post as UNDP resident representative in Egypt in November last year. Before that he was resident representative in Azerbaijan.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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