Profile of Egypt’s Executive Secretariat for the Demining and Development of the North West Coast

In 2006, the government of Egypt with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a multi-billion dollar initiative to develop the desert regions of the west of Egypt, along the Mediterranean.  The government’s plan would create 400,000 jobs and encourage more than a million Egyptians to move from the Nile River valley to the region.  At present, the area is undeveloped except for the resort town of Marsa Matruh and populated mostly by Bedouin tribes.  And landmines.  Millions and millions of landmines.

eg-map Contamination-Map1-300x237

The northwest coast of Egypt was the site of the tank battles of El Alamein from World War II between the German Afrika Corps under Rommel and the British Eighth Army under Montgomery.  The two armies laid so many landmines, estimated at 20 million, that the region came to be known as “the Devil’s Garden.”  The map on the right shows the main areas of landmine contamination, covering more than 200 miles of coastline: just west of Alexandria where El Alamein is; around Marsa Matruh; and near the border with Libya (additional minefields lie on the Libyan side of the border).  To address the landmine issue and make the region suitable for development, the government of Egypt created the Executive Secretariat for the Demining and Development of the North West Coast (Executive Secretariat).  Organized under the Ministry of International Cooperation in 2007, the Executive Secretariat is the coordination unit for the development project and is supported with national and international contributions.  The majority of funding derives from the Egyptian government, but in 2013 more than US $1.3 million came from UNDP and the governments of Australia, Germany, New Zealand and Great Britain.  In previous years, the European Commission, Japan, Norway and the United States also contributed to the Executive Secretariat.

The Executive Secretariat’s mission includes:

  • Coordination and monitoring the implementation of the development plan and related mine action activities;
  • The development of a communication strategy and resource mobilization strategy and coordination with donors, civil society and the private sector;
  • The conduct of demining activities based on clearly identified humanitarian and development needs; and
  • The conduct of mine risk education and victim assistance activities.

 

Demining

The Executive Secretariat serves as the mine action authority for Egypt and is responsible for coordinating landmine clearance activities.  Using a combination of technical and non-technical survey, the Executive Secretariat has been trying to determine the exact extent of the minefields in the country.  The estimates of 17 to 22 million landmines, representing more than 20% of the total landmines contaminating the globe, are based upon an extrapolation of clearance work conducted by the Egyptian army in the 1980s and 1990s; the true number may be higher or lower.  According to Fathy El-Shazly, the Executive Secretariat’s director, “the [landmine] contamination has been found to extend beyond the area suspected by the army. In some areas, such as Ras Hekma and Siwa, there are no mines indicated [on the Egyptian army’s maps], yet many accidents” have occurred in those places.  At the same time, landmine clearance work has been conducted by private companies seeking to exploit the oil and natural gas reserves along the coastline and their clearance work has not been integrated into national databases.

Clearance work has been ongoing since the creation of the Executive Secretariat with the pace of clearance increasing over time.  In 2010, 3 million landmines and over 9,000 acres of land were cleared and released for use; over a ten month period spanning 2012 and 2013, over 26,000 acres of land were cleared and released for use.  Another 200,000 acres of land remain to be cleared based upon requests from the ministries of agriculture, housing and environmental affairs.  The Executive Secretariat uses mechanical techniques for clearing and landmine clearance is complicated by the presence of a variety of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines and the nature of the soil.  The desert sands are subject to flooding and erosion which have moved the mines from regular formations expected in military-laid minefields and may have buried some mines more than 6 feet below the surface.

 

Mine Risk Education

The Executive Secretariat has published a five year strategy (2010 – 2015) for its mine risk education (MRE) programming.  Most landmine victims in Egypt are adult males due to their high exposure in contaminated areas through shepherding and farming; the strategy also recognized that children in the contaminated areas help out with shepherding after school, exposing them to risk as well.  The main implementation of the strategy has been through targeted support to four local organizations, including the survivors association, Association of Landmines Survivors for Economic Development – Marsa Matruh, and through school-based campaigns.  To dates, two MRE campaigns have been conducted; the first campaign educated 15,000 primary and secondary school students, the second campaign focused on secondary school and college students.  The second campaign built support within the government of the Matruh governorate which has since encouraged churches and mosques to inform their communities about the risks of landmines.  This outcome of the second campaign ties into the MRE strategy’s goal of reaching adult males directly, rather than indirectly through children.

 

Victim Assistance

EgyptDiffidenti_large

The total number of landmine victims in Egypt is estimated at over 8,000 and while the Executive Secretariat has documented 759 in the North West region, UNDP believes that only half of all landmine incidents are reported.  Of the known, documented survivors, 94% are males. In 2012, 41 people were killed by mines and 5 others injured; of the 46 casualties, all but one were civilians.

The Executive Secretariat maintains a database of landmine casualties and adds known survivors to that database when they are identified.  In 2013, the Executive Secretariat provided prosthetic devices to 241 survivors as well as micro-credit loans to 39 women, but these services are limited to the Matruh governorate.  In addition to the direct provision of services, the Executive Secretariat supports non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including Protection, the Arab Doctors Union, the Association of Landmines Survivors for Economic Development, which target landmine survivors.  These NGOs provide income generation projects, peer assistance and advocacy opportunities for survivors.  The support from the Executive Secretariat takes the form of capacity building focusing on financial and project management to help the NGOs more efficiently and effectively provide services to their beneficiaries.  Within the micro-credit programs, all loans have been repaid on time and in full.

Outside of the Matruh governorate, survivor assistance services are run by the national government and consist of a small financial compensation and little or no rehabilitation and reintegration services.  Because many minefields are in restricted areas, survivors are loath to report their injuries as that would be tantamount to admitting they were trespassing or participating in illegal activities.  Many survivors also suffer from psychological issues due to loss of income potential, discrimination against persons with disabilities, and the pervasive feeling they are victims of a “war they were never party to.”

 

Looking Ahead

The Executive Secretariat’s plans for 2014 include the development of an epidemiologic information system that will report new landmine casualties as they occur.  Such a system will allow the Executive Secretariat and its partner NGOs to target survivor assistance services and determine the possible extent of landmine contamination.  The Executive Secretariat will also work to bring new partners into the mine action fold including private sector actors and the international community, especially the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD).  Of course, the Executive Secretariat will also continue to provide mine risk education services as detailed in its strategy document and victim assistance services to survivors.

 

Michael P. Moore

June 20, 2014

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