El Maghara, North Sinai: Local knowledge, Biodiversity, and Poverty
- 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).
- Professor Mohamed Tawfic Ahmed
Environmental Impact Assessment Unit
Faculty of Agriculture, Suez Canal University
PO Box 41522, Ismailia, Egypt.
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.
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
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
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.