Despite the huge potential for Eco-tourism in the Middle East, the reality is that most tourism development in the region are about one thing: making lots of money. Protecting the environment and preserving important natural habitats are so far down the list of concerns for developers, that having to destroy protected reserves in the name of luxury resorts doesn’t seem like a problem at all.
One example of this disregard for nature is the recent revelation that an Egyptian real estate developer, the Amer Group, has been granted permission to build on the northern part of Lake Qarun. According to Birdlife International, this is the first development of such huge proportions that has been allowed in an Egyptian protected area.
Lake Qarun, which is one and half hours drive from Cairo, is one of Egypt’s richest natural landmarks with historical importance. As well as being home to various wildlife including birds such as the black-necked grebe, flamingos, grey herons and even ducks, it holds one of the world’s most complete fossil records of terrestrial primates and marshland mammals. In fact, UNESCO is currently considering Lake Qarun as an important site of World Heritage.
However, this important stretch of land is currently being put at risk of degradation due to irresponsible tourism and projects such as the Amer Groups’ ‘Porto Fayoum’ plan. The Amer Group is behind other large tourism developments along Egypt’s North and Ain Sokhana coasts such as Porto Marina and Porto Sokhna.
According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, a wave of tourism is already destroying the shoreline of Lake Qarun and pollution is damaging animal and bird habitats. Whilst Lake Qarun is protected as a nature reserve, if permission is granted by the relevant authorities for development then it no longer falls under any protection.
Egypt’s former tourism minister Zuhair Garanah, who was sentenced to five years in prison this Tuesday, is believed to have given the ‘Porto Fayoum’ tourism development the go ahead.
And while local authorities near Lake Qarun are welcoming the development as a means to encourage jobs and stimulate the economy, analysts have raised concerns that the development may in fact be destroying the very habitats that tourists come to see.
Following the revolution in Egypt which overthrew president Hosni Mubarak who had ruled the country for thirty years, the tourism industry has argued that new projects are needed to attract tourists back into the country. However, this doesn’t have to entail destroying precious ecosystems in Egypt.
We recently covered one Egyptian businessman’s efforts to promote mountain climbing eco-tourism in the Sinai Peninsula, which is home to various Eco-orientated tourism enterprises. Many had also hoped that Egypt’s post-Revolution efforts to embrace wind-power had marked a shift towards more sustainable initiatives in the country. Let’s hope that as the permission for the resort was granted pre-revolution that it will be reconsidered and Egypt’s important nature reserves protected.
:: You can sign a petition to stop ‘Porto Fayoum’ here: Save Lake Qarun.
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