Egypt Lake Qarun under threat
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Lake Qarun under threat
Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE) warns that the Qarun lake protected area in the Fayoum oasis, one of Egypt’s richest and most treasured natural landmarks, is at grave risk of being destroyed. Rather than protecting this natural treasure, NCE asserts that the Egyptian government’s policies encourage overdevelopment and other destructive activities.
A wave of tourism development is destroying the shoreline at Qarun lake, animal and bird habitats are being ruined and the water is being severely polluted. Lake Qarun’s most prominent recent tourist development is Byoum, a massive complex of more than 120 villas, a five-star hotel and hunting lodge. It is being built by well-known Egyptian developer Samih Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Hotels and Development. According to Egypt’s law protecting nature reserves, it is illegal to destroy, remove or pollute a reserve’s natural resources—its wildlife, plants, rocks, even soil. However, this law is subject to a final clause that states “ . . . unless permission is obtained from the relevant authorities.” The Egyptian government has given Orascom this permission at Qarun lake.
During a recent meeting with NCE, Orascom chairman Sawiris promised to work with NCE to help protect the environment by forbidding hunting, building a bird sanctuary, restricting water sports and providing fishermen access to the lake. To date, however, none of these promises have been met. The northern part of Qarun lake, around Gebal Qatrani, contains one of the world’s most complete fossil records of terrestrial primates and marshland mammals, critical to understanding of mammalian including human evolution. The lake is also an internationally designated Important Bird Area, providing food, shelter and breeding grounds for a wide variety of resident and migrating birds, including several endangered species. Despite all this, however, Egypt’s Tourism Development Authority (TDA) has plans to build on hundreds of acres along the lake’s northern shore—even though this area of rolling, untouched desert is protected land.
On the southwestern shore, Orascom’s Byoum development will cover around 300 acres of prime lake property. Already a huge cement embankment protrudes into the lake, covering the shoreline and destroying a key bird habitat. Byoum’s promotional materials, featuring a silver-engraved, antique, rifle, promote hunting as a major activity, although hunting is illegal in the protectorate. Byoum also denies local fishermen access to the lake. It has been suggested that letters of objection should be sent to the following Egyptian agencies: the Environment Agency (www. eeaa.gov.eg) firstname.lastname@example.org and the State Information Service email@example.com/etf@etf. org.eg.