Though Egypt is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, it has not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty
Egypt is not listed in the international work plan to combat land mines, although landmines planted in the country represent 20% of total landmines worldwide. It is contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) from World War II and the Egypt-Israel wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973. According to reports, there is a significant mine and ERW problem in Egypt’s Western Desert, the Sinai Peninsula and areas near the Suez Canal and Red Sea coast.
Mine/ERW contamination causes casualties, but its more significant impact is developmental. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), government sources have claimed that the area contaminated by mines and ERW in the Northwest Coast denies access to nearly 22% of Egypt’s land mass; an area believed to be very rich in natural resources and development potential. Reserves of 4.8 billion barrels of oil and 13.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, three million acres of arable and grazing land, considerable mineral resources, as well as a promising potential for tourism development, are mentioned among the resources to be claimed by the development plan of the Northwest Coast.
Fathi El-Shazli, national project director for mine clearance and development at the Ministry of International Cooperation, told United Nations news service Irin that some 22 million landmines and unexploded ordnance have lain hidden in the northwest of Egypt since World War II.
The joint Egypt/UNDP project document of November 2006 referred to 2,680 square kilometers of contamination, which is almost four times the estimated contaminated area in Afghanistan.
Many of the mines are near the battlefield of El-Alamein, where the British Eighth Army forced the Africa Corps of “Desert Fox” Erwin Rommel to retreat all the way back to Tunisia. That war and today’s peace lie close together in the no-man’s-land of the desert. Anti-tank mines, anti-personnel mines and unexploded artillery shells block today’s transportation routes.
This battleground is considered as a treasure trove of raw materials such as oil, natural gas and ore. Egypt is accustomed to be seen as a minor oil player, but experts now estimate that 4.8 billion barrels of oil lie under the sands of the North West, which are enough for the country to draw level with OPEC member Angola in terms of oil production.
Egypt also has 1.94 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, which amounts to around 1.1% of global reserves, and an additional 0.38 trillion is estimated to be located in the northwest and the desert inland from the coast. Gas pipelines already run from two gas fields there to Alexandria. But, mines are obstructing the search for more oil and gas.
Since the Mine Ban Treaty ignored the responsibilities of those countries that laid mines in clearing or helping in clearing them, and did not oblige states parties to offer technical and financial help to affected countries, but made it according to each country’s circumstances, Egypt did not signed it in. In addition, the Mine Ban Treaty did not distinguish between the legitimate use of antipersonnel mines for defense and border security and the other kinds of use. Subsequently, Egypt will not join the Mine Ban Treaty as long as it does not assign responsibility for mine clearance to those who laid mines.
In 2006, there was no functioning national mining action authority in Egypt, although a National Committee to Develop the Northwest Coast and Mine Clearance had been created in April 2000.
In November 2006, the Egyptian government and UNDP signed a project agreement on mine clearance and development in the Northwest Coast. The project aims at supporting the implementation of the government’s 2003 National Plan for the Development of the Northwest Coast and Inland Desert. The expected cost of the development plan is approximately US$10 billion, to be funded by the government over five years; the Ministry of International Cooperation was nominated as the plan’s focal point. The plan was envisioned to have a considerable impact not only on the Northwest Coast but also on the national economy as a whole, as it was expected to create about 400,000 jobs and about one and a half million people are expected to move into the region by 2022.
The Egypt/UNDP project, Support to the Northwest Coast Development Plan and Mine Action, refers to a mine action program implemented over five years (January 2007 to December 2011) which includes demining, mine risk education and victim assistance. The first phase of the project (February 2007-July 2008) was budgeted at $3,147,795. The government pledged to provide $261,730, with UNDP contributing $375,000, UNDP’s Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery $200,533, the UN Mine Action Service $150,000, the British Embassy $19,632, the UK Department for International Development $490,400, with in-kind contributions from the Egyptian Armed Forces and the ministries of defense and international cooperation.
Locations of mines in Egypt
The locations of landmines are divided into two main fields according to SIS, as follows:
A) Landmine fields in Western Desert:
The Western Desert mine fields extend from El-Alamein, up to the Egyptian-Libyan borders with a depth of more than 40 km from the Mediterranean coast. Landmines planted in these fields vary in type and size depending on the troops involved in action. The list of fields where mines are significantly spread includes:
The coastal strip on both sides of Alexandria-Matrouh road
The field starting 10 km on Abu-Doues road of Borg el-Arab, El-Alamein, a-Daba and Bagos (Gala)
The fields of Nweider, Rwaisat and El-Marir, the most dangerous mine fields, where no mine maps were found
The fields of El-Manaseb and Dair El-Qatany involving vast areas of arable land
The fields of El-Khawabeer, Dair-a-Ragel and El-Osayed which are among the most dangerous fields
The field of Bab El-Qatara 30 km, on El-Alamein – El-Humaymat road
The fields of Abu Dwis, Halq ad-Daba Zahr l-Hammad and El-Humaymat
Borg Raqabet El-Ralah
The fields of Fuka and West of Marsa Matrouh up to the Egyptian-Libyan borders
B) Mine fields in Egypt’s Eastern Desert:
Field of west Suez Canal
Field of west Suez Gulf
Field of west Red Sea
South Sinai Field
Central Sinai Field
North Sinai Field
Undoubtedly, the presence of this huge number of landmines on the Egyptian territory has resulted in disrupting oil prospecting operations in the vast mined areas.
SIS statistics states that Suez Gulf produces 43% of the total production of crude oil and 8% of gas production, while the Eastern Desert produces 8% of crude oil, Western Desert produces 21% of oil and 36% of gas, the Mediterranean Sea production reaches 6% of oil and 59% of gas, Sinai area produces 12% of oil and 1% of gas. Hence, comparing the oil and gas production areas to the mined ones, the problem of the landmines hindering Egypt’s route to oil and gas reveals.
By: Ahmed Morsy