El Maghara, North Sinai: Local knowledge, Biodiversity, and Poverty Alleviation

Lead Institutions

  • Suez Canal University, Ismailia, Egypt
  • Funding for this assessment was provided by the Ford Foundation and the UNEP Regional Office for West Asia (ROWA-UNEP).

Contact Information

  • Professor Mohamed Tawfic Ahmed
    Environmental Impact Assessment Unit
    Faculty of Agriculture, Suez Canal University
    PO Box 41522, Ismailia, Egypt.

Project Summary

The El Maghara assessment area lies in the northern part of west Sinai Peninsula and includes much of Gebel Maghara and the adjoining plains east to Risan Aneiza. El Maghara, North Sinai region is one of the landmarks for biodiversity in Sinai and Egypt and is one of the most important centers of medicinal plants in the Middle East, with 61% of its flora classified as medicinal. Unique traditional knowledge of these plants and their uses is held by the Bedouin tribes, who populate the region. Geographically, the region is characterized by diversity in landforms, rock units, water resources, and aridity conditions. Generally, El Maghara area is characterized by mild winters, hot summers and relatively low precipitation and high evaporation. The Uplands sub-region, where the assessment was conducted, is the most remote region in Sinai, and is almost exclusively Bedouin. Poverty is widespread, and human impacts on ecosystem services threaten biodiversity and, generally, community goods and services of the area.

Primary threats to the ability of the ecosystem to maintain ecosystem services include Acid Mine Drainage and other pollution from coal mining, roads and other infrastructure for mining and quarrying activities, particulate dust pollution and loss of aesthetic value (visual pollution) from the mining and quarrying activities, over-exploitation of water resources, and continued land degradation.

Assessment Approach

In addition to fulfilling the basic conceptual framework of the Millennium Ecosystem, this assessment also embraced “socio-economic profile” and “traditional knowledge” as basic elements of the assessment work.

The socio-economic component focused on the inhabitants of El Zawadin village. The village was assayed through the use of a questionnaire to measure a variety of social and economical issues, especially those related to the Human Development Index (HDI). Additionally, the questionnaire investigated the relationship between inhabitants and their environment and biodiversity. Similarly, local knowledge, especially in regard to agriculture, conservation, health care and water management was assessed.

Botanical surveys and vegetation sampling were carried out over diverse habitats throughout the assessment region. Plant cover as canopy and species richness were determined for each site.

Image processing of satellite data, GIS and remote sensing were used in the creation of a geographic database of the study region. This database was used to assess the impacts of industrial and other man-made activities on the region over the past 20-30 years.

Scenarios were created using a list of variables ranked in importance by each member of the assessment team. The variables were then entered into a Matrix of Direct Influences (MDI) and Matrix of Potential Direct Influences (MPDI) to develop and ascertain the likelihood of different future scenarios.

Focal Issues

The primary focus of this assessment was the state of the ecosystem in relation to its capacity to provide for the needs of the mostly Bedouin population who live in the assessment region. However, acknowledgement and assessment of the traditional knowledge of the Bedouin regarding the medicinal plants in the area in particular and the ecology in general was also an integral part of the assessment. The assessment recognizes that desert inhabitants are extremely dependent on the continued provision of the scarce ecosystem services available, and that the ecosystems that provide these services are extremely fragile.

Ecosystems services assessed

Water, floral diversity, medicinal plants, mineral resources, agriculture, grazing, soils.

Project Outputs & Results

Results of remote sensing, image analysis and GIS indicated that temporal ecosystem changes and environmental impacts in soil, water, biodiversity and socio-economics features related to the effect of sand dunes encroachment, flash flooding, quarrying, mining, agricultural activities and salinization of water are taking place in El Maghara.

This study provided for the first time systematic, comprehensive information about the potential water resources, minerals supply, medicinal plants, soil quality and suitability for agriculture in the region. The assessment also produced the first GIS and remote sensing material for the region and conducted the first ever socio-economic studies on a randomly selected sample group through a well designed questionnaire. Together, this information provides a sound basis for further integrated conservation work. Additionally, multiple stakeholders and decision-makers have been brought together through participation in this assessment, and communication between local community and government level decision-makers has been enhanced.

The impact of mining, gravel and marble activities on biodiversity and ecosystems has received greater publicity and become and issue of concern for the public as a result of the assessment activities undertaken in the region.


Scenarios were analysed based on the relationships of variables to each other on the Matrix of Direct Influences (MDI) and then on the Matrix of Potential Direct Influences (MPDI), which allowed for future projections based on foreseeable future relations. A direct influence/dependence map was produced from these results.


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