CAIRO, 31 January 2008 (IRIN ) - A vast coastal strip in Egypt's northwest between the city of Alamein and the border with Libya cannot be developed because of an estimated 22 million landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) lying there since the end of World War II, said Fathy El-Shazly, national project director for mine clearance and development at the Ministry of International Cooperation.


The area is rich in natural resources, with reserves of 4.8 billion barrels of oil, 13.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and over 600 million tonnes of mineral resources, according to government sources.

"The northwest coast has great development potential; the area is one of the greatest promises for Egypt. But the mines deny access to a landmass of approximately 22 percent of the national territory. So we cannot benefit from that development potential because of the landmines and UXO from World War II," El-Shazly said.

A US$10.86 billion project - Support to the North West Coast Development Plan and Mine Action Programme - was signed by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Egyptian Ministry of Planning in November 2006. Its aim is to promote development, implement agriculture and livestock projects and increase the local production of barley, vegetables and livestock fodder in an area considered to be one of Egypt's breadbaskets.

According to Amin El-Sharkawy, UNDP assistant resident representative in Egypt, the plan also aims to create 400,000 new jobs as well as attract an anticipated 1.5 million new residents from over-populated areas.

Egypt's current population of about 80 million mainly live in the fertile Nile Delta, and is expected to grow by another 15-20 million in the next 20 years.

Heavily mined

According to the Landmine Monitor Report 2007, a publication by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Egypt is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, along with such hotspots as Afghanistan, Angola and Bosnia.

It estimated that Egypt holds 21 percent of the world's total number of landmines and UXO and that 697 people have been killed and 7,617 injured since World War II.

Between 1983 and 1999 the Egyptian armed forces cleared 2.9 million mines from an area of 38,730 hectares at a cost of $27 million, according to a report by the Military Engineers Department at the Ministry of Defence.

Demining stopped in 1999

However, El-Shazly said that demining operations in the western desert stopped in 1999 because of budgetary constraints.

There are still 248,000 hectares of land infested with about 16.7 million mines and UXO. Officials estimate that an additional $250 million is needed to finish clearance operations, including funding for mechanical equipment, mine detectors and protective equipment.

A revised programme is scheduled to start this year, according to the Secretariat for Mine Clearance and the Development of the North West Coast, a government body. In addition to demining, the programme will also have mine risk education and victim assistance components. The $1.3 million project is supported by the Ministry of International Cooperation, UNDP, the Ministry of Defence, the UN Children's Fund, as well as civil society and private sector donors.

Political will

Ayman Sorour, director of the non-governmental organisation Mine Action and Human Rights Foundation (MAHRF), said the government lacked political will to solve the problem.

"We possess the technical expertise to clear the mines, and money is not an issue. If President [Hosni] Mubarak calls the Egyptian army to clean it up, they would clean it up and nobody would talk about money," he told IRIN on the phone from his Paris-based office.

Ahmed Amer, director of the Gardens of Peace Association which works on the issue of landmines in the Marsa Matrouh Governorate, said that for Egypt "World War II will be finished when all the mines and UXOs are cleared from the area".

Von:, 31.01.2008

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