ENFORCING THE LESSONS FROM THE DAMAGE DONE TO EL GOUNA
A recent $33.9m compensation claim from the Egyptian government to Orascom Development Egypt shows how the region can go about enforcing the lessons from the damage done to El Gouna.
Earlier this month, the Egyptian government sent a compensation claim worth $33.9 million to Orascom Development Egypt, the subsidiary of Orascom Development Holding, for causing environmental damage at the Red Sea resort city of El Gouna.
According to various media reports, Egypt’s Environmental Protection Agency, a department of the country’s Environment Ministry has claimed that Orascom Development improperly disposed of dredging materials off the coast, causing damage to the surrounding marine environment.
In a formal letter that the EPA reportedly sent to Orascom Development, which was leaked to an online Egyptian publication, the authority claimed that some of the damages took place when El Gouna was hit by an unusually powerful mid-latitude cyclone in March 2020. Additional damage was also reportedly caused by the company’s dredging activities along the city’s coastline to make way for a new extension of El Gouna.
The EPA also claimed that several articles of the country’s environmental law were breached during the company’s construction efforts. In Egypt, companies are legally required to submit an environmental study, which details any potential damages that their work may cause to the natural environment, before commencing work.
The letter alleged that Orascom Development did not submit any such report, which makes it liable for the compensation claims.
For its part, the developer says that it has not been given the opportunity to respond, whether technically or legally, to the allegations, before the issuance of the claim. It adds that it is contesting the compensation sum and claims that it paid to clear the rubble left by the cyclone out of its own pocket – a matter that it says was clearly communicated to the ministry at the time.
Orascom states that it has asked the Environmental Ministry to furnish it with ample evidence about the damage, the reports add.
AN IMPORTANT SHIFT
This incident marks an important shift in attitudes towards proper care towards the environment during dredging activities in the region. While the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been proactive leaders when it comes to introducing regulations and legal requirements when it comes to protecting and preserving natural areas during dredging activities, not enough Middle Eastern countries have followed suit to protect their coastlines.
For example, in the UAE, it is required to use settlement ponds for dredged slurry, with there being several examples that highlight their effectiveness in protecting the environment around the worked upon area.
One such example is where our Ecobarrier Silt Curtains were deployed during the building of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Initially deployed as a precautionary measure to contain sediment in the event of a newly flooded area requiring emergency dewatering, the silt curtains also helped to protect ecologically sensitive habitats around the site, including sea-grass meadows, corals, mangroves and shellfish beds.
In Saudi Arabia, projects such as The Red Sea Project are taking great pains to ensure that any work being done around marine habitats come with stringent controls in place to ensure minimal disruption to the ecosystem around this.
Most importantly however, these measures are enforced and controlled by empowered government agencies, with the backing of the private and semi-private sector, as there is an awareness of the greater good that can be achieved.
What happened in El Gouna was a painful remainder of what can go wrong if environmental protection laws are not followed up and enforced. It is essential that lessons are learnt from this and that countries in this region become more proactive and stringent in ensuring the protection of their coastlines and marine habitats, while still supporting the necessary development for economic and societal growth.
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