The government has embarked on plans to develop Egypt’s villages over the next three years in a scheme that targets raising the living standards of villagers, upgrading infrastructure and basic services such as drinking water, electricity, and waste management, and decreasing pollution, lining irrigation canals, and developing healthcare and education facilities.
Last week, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi instructed ministers to broaden the scope of the “Decent Life” initiative to include 1,500 villages in 50 districts. The project, targeting 18 million Egyptians, will cost LE500 billion.
The project is meant to improve the quality of life of Egyptian people and to help to reinforce peace and security while achieving sustainable development. It aims to establish a strong, competitive, and diversified knowledge-based economy through digital transformation and raise resilience and competitiveness.
The “Decent Life” initiative is a presidential initiative that kick-started with the collaboration of the various ministries concerned and civil society groups and institutions to provide a decent standard of living for the most vulnerable and neediest groups in society and promote social, economic, and cultural development in Egypt’s poorest villages. Providing basic services will improve social protection indicators and raise employment rates to achieve Egypt’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Focusing on the environmental aspect of the initiative, the Saft Turab village in the Gharbiya governorate has been selected to become a model eco-friendly village, announced Yasmine Fouad, the minister of environment, this week. The village’s development will be carried out in cooperation with the International Egyptian Women’s Club in New York, which is affiliated to the New Egypt Group, one of the arms of the Ministry of State for Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates’ Affairs.
Fouad said a training programme had been designed for a group of village young people. The training focused on conserving the environment and the skills needed to achieve sustainable agriculture. The programme trained participants in door-to-door campaigns to establish interactive dialogues with villagers on ways of preserving the environment. The young people taking part participated in exercises on raising the awareness of villagers and helping them to establish micro-environmental projects to help with the state’s development efforts and to generate jobs.
The Ministry of Environment took young people participating in the programme on a visit to the Wadi Al-Rayan and Wadi Al-Hitan nature reserves in Fayoum to introduce them to Egypt’s rich resources. They also visited the Tunis village in Fayoum to exchange experiences with the inhabitants. Tunis is a model of the kind of innovative green village in Egypt that can integrate heritage with positive outlooks for the future.
The National Programme for Managing Solid Waste, affiliated to the Ministry of Environment, participated in the campaign to develop the Saft Turab village, with Gharbiya being only one of the governorates taking part in the programme. The project has been set up in cooperation with the heads of districts and neighbourhoods and contractors to follow up on waste collection, transportation, and safe disposal, in addition to purification operations in canals and drains to clear accumulated waste.
A clean-up campaign has been carried out in Saft Turab’s Qurashiya Canal, in which 50 tons of waste were removed.
Programme officials have held meetings with the heads of districts and neighbourhoods and leading women in the community in order to encourage them to educate people about the importance of public cleanliness and developing their villages. Lamp posts were also installed in Saft Turab as part of the programme.
A number of other activities are scheduled to take place in Saft Turab in coordination with the concerned authorities, such as cleaning work, obligating workshops and factories to rectify working conditions, cleaning campaigns by village youth, and planting trees in the streets.
The “Decent Life” initiative also includes a programme for producing honey from mangrove forests as a small project for people living near them with the participation of school and university students, noted Sayed Khalifa, head of the Agricultural Syndicate and supervisor of the mangrove cultivation project, which is destined for a prominent role.
The mangrove project is of immense benefit to the climate as well, Khalifa said, because of the role mangroves play in stabilising the environment. Mangrove trees are of economic importance to Egypt’s Red Sea coasts, playing a significant role in supporting coral reefs. The Red Sea region is a tourist destination housing diverse mangrove trees, marine life, birds, coral reefs, seaweed, colourful fish, sharks, dolphins and rare marine creatures.
The project, Khalifa added, had already helped to rehabilitate six sites on the Red Sea coast, including three areas in Qalaan and Hamata south of Marsa Alam and three sites south of Safaga. Greenhouses have been built to grow mangrove trees in Safaga and Hamata. Some 30,000 seedlings of the Aviccenia and 18,000 seedlings of the Rhizophora varieties have been cultivated in areas targeted by the project.
This work will help to rejuvenate tourism in the Red Sea governorate after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, he said. Tourism is of prime economic importance to the government, even surpassing petroleum production, Khalifa said, adding that thanks to mangrove trees, fishing on Egypt’s coasts brings in revenues exceeding $130 million annually.
Khalifa said the project contributed to providing job opportunities and the formation of larger urban communities, helping to reduce unemployment in the Red Sea governorate. Data have shown that at least 85 per cent of tourists to the Red Sea go on diving trips to enjoy the marine life, he added.
He said the project should be extended across the Red Sea coast to the Gulf of Suez and South Sinai. This would contribute to increasing national income, fish production, reducing coastal erosion, bringing in more tourism, and protecting tourism investments and urban areas. Mangrove trees can survive difficult environmental conditions, such as the salinity of water and soil and other pollutants.
Magdi Allam, president of the Union of Arab Environmental Experts, wanted to see the establishment of a National Authority for Forestation. This would coordinate between the ministries of agriculture, housing, local development, and the environment, he said, and would put in place national programmes as part of initiatives to develop villages by planting trees in streets, around waste pipes, and at the entrances to fields.
Allam wanted to see the establishment of green belts around cities in Egypt and for streets and squares to be planted to help reduce pollution and heat and increase shade and decorative elements. He stressed the need for all the ministries concerned to participate in achieving these goals and for schools to raise environmental awareness and to help reduce pollution rates in surrounding areas.
Roof cultivation was an important source of food, and it could help to reduce pollution, he said, indicating that the implementation of such plans would contribute to transforming Egypt into one of the most important destinations for global tourism.
The Ministry of Environment’s programme to plant a million trees annually nationwide should be reactivated, Allam said. The government should also enforce environmental laws on establishing tree nurseries in districts and villages, and there should be more programmes to raise awareness of tree cultivation and the significance of developing a culture of the environment in Egypt.
He pointed to the importance of recycling and converting organic waste into organic fertilisers instead of using it as fuel.
The world of waste management is seeing new developments every year. Egypt should try these out in various cities, villages, and neighbourhoods, picking out the best to adopt as models for environmental protection and development, Allam said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 February , 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly