EU grant to tackle rural poverty in South Sinai

The European Commission (EC) has awarded 55.5 million euros (about US$74.2 million) for a landmark development project in Egypt’s South Sinai Governorate. The aid will target some of Egypt’s poorest rural populations, including Sinai’s 22,000 Bedouin population, many of whom are failing to benefit from Sinai’s booming tourist economy.

The Sinai peninsula, which returned to Egypt from Israel after the 1979 Camp David Accord, has witnessed rapid development since then in the tourism sector, which dominates the region’s economy. Around 110,000 people now live in the governorate.

However, despite being officially one of Egypt’s richest governorates, social divisions remain high. Much of the Bedouin population is not officially registered with the state, and has little access to education or healthcare. According to development agencies, illiteracy is as high as 90 per cent amongst some sectors of the Bedouin population.

EC spokesperson Germaine Demian told IRIN: “It is important to secure the participation of the entire population of South Sinai in the programme so that they can enjoy the economic and social benefits.”

''Access to resources [for the rural population] is going down and down. It is extreme poverty.The statistics will not show that the area is so poor.''

The project is divided into two components. The first will concentrate on infrastructural upgrades, such as supplying potable water to rural communities, solid waste and waste-water management, and environmental protection equipment for the area’s nature reserves.

The second component, worth 20.5m euros, is earmarked for poverty alleviation and social development projects executed through local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

While poverty levels in South Sinai’s cities - Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba - are relatively low, rural populations (Bedouin) without outside support have been facing nearly a decade of drought and declining health and nutritional standards.

“Extreme poverty”

Bishow Parajuli, representative and country director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Egypt, told IRIN: “Access to resources [for the rural population] is going down and down. It is extreme poverty.” The WFP is one of the beneficiaries of the second component of the EC grant.

“The statistics will not show that the area is so poor. Sharm el-Sheikh will mask that. But you need to identify the traditional communities,” he added.

WFP, which has been conducting a nutrition and capacity building project in Sinai since 1986, said its part of the 55.5m euro total would be used to enhance its existing programme and widen the capacity building element.

“As well as expanding, we will be focusing more on the human assets [among the Bedouin community], such as training, vocational skills and women’s empowerment,” said WFP Sinai Programme Director Khaled el-Shatila.

The EC has also provided a total of one million euros for small grants (below 10,000 euros) to be distributed directly amongst Sinai’s 12 Bedouin tribes for water, agriculture, livestock, handicrafts and ecotourism projects.