Red Sea resort in Egypt risks destruction by power plant


To this day, Red Sea resort tourist operators, hotel owners and tourism stakeholders are trying to fight off a gigantic power plant about to arrive in the beautiful, pristine resort in South Sinai peninsula. Worried locals oppose the joint project by the Investment Bank, African Development Bank and top Egyptian Authorities to build 750-megawatt gas-powered turbines on a site 105,000 square meters in size (going up to over 82 meters) right at the heart of the popular resort area of Nuweiba City, South Sinai in Egypt.

Nuweiba is one of the most picturesque parts of the whole southern Sinai Peninsula. It has progressive and unique tourism potentials being the home to two major Sinai Bedouin tribes, and the site for the world’s most unique, relatively undisturbed underwater marine life.

The proposed Nuweiba plant site is located on an area of a rectangular-shaped piece of land of 25 Feddans (105,000 square meters) within a wider uncultivated land, which lies between the mountain far behind and the coastal line of the Aqaba Gulf in front, approximately 170 km northeast of Sharm El-Sheikh and about 70 km south of Taba. The site is surrounded by mountain and desert lands. Only some few industrial facilities and tourist and residential spots are discreted around the site boundary. The Mediterranean sea is located about 260 km to the north of the site and the Aqaba Gulf about 500 m to the east of the site area at the immediate vicinity of the site boundaries.

Nuweiba el-Mazena and Nuweiba el-Tarabin are both adjacent to Nuweiba City – partly Bedouin and within municipal boundaries. Towns of importance in the wider vicinity of the power plant site are Sharm El-Sheikh, Saint Catherine, Nabq, Ras Mohamed and El-Tur. Some 610 kilometers of coastline contain some of the most significant tourist destinations of the country while inland, there are also attractions. Tourism is the single most significant economic activity of the area of Nuweiba.

On the site is a habitat, now recognized as a totally natural desert and mountain land system. The very scarce flora and fauna diversity now present in this habitat includes the species that can tolerate this natural land-type and weather system.

But the project stakeholders argue, the project area is within the western coastline of Aqaba Gulf main ecosystem which is characterized by a sandy extended strip of coastline, with very little and discreted patches of human settlements as well as a very simple system of roads and corridors of roads. The project site lies uniquely within a junction area between the mountain and the Aqaba Gulf. “This location is suited for abundant nature of the proposed activity which relies on water for cooling and discharge. The site with its current land use appears in harmony with its neighboring land uses and no ecological impacts were observed,” echoed the project proponents at the African Development Bank and Investment Bank.

Hotly contesting the plant’s position is Hesham Mustafa Kamel, general manager of the Red Sea Diving Safari in the Shgra Village, Nakari Village and Wadi Lahami Village. He said they should not stop fighting the power plant builders. “As usual, we cannot take a break. This is a new threat as they are planning to make more of these power plants along the coastline. We better kill it in Sinai before we have to fight them on our battle ground,” fiercely Kamel said.

As he said those lines, he sought the need to prepare urgent flyers ‘on this joke happening in Nuweiba and its devastating effect on the reef.’

Based on the environmental impact assessment, Kamel reported that the returned cooling water will be released at a temperature of no more than 9 degrees Celsius at the point of discharge. “Thermal modeling of the discharge plume shows that, at full load operation, the point at which the plume has decreased in temperature to 3oC above ambient, lies at approximately 70 meters from the point of discharge. The mixing zone has been defined to be 100 meters from the point of discharge,” said the report.

For certain, there will be grave and devastating effects upon flora and fauna that thrive in the Gulf waters of Nuweiba though the environmental assessment shrugs it all off by saying, “The temperature of the returned cooling water at the point of discharge conforms to the Egyptian Standard, and the discharge as modeled satisfies the World Bank standard of a maximum increase of 3oC above ambient at the edge of the mixing zone (100 m from the point of discharge). In addition, the area affected by the highest temperature increases, and therefore where aquatic ecology is likely to be most affected, is localized and the aquatic habitats in this area have been found to already be relatively impoverished. Outside this area, more marginal increases in the Aqaba Gulf water temperature are likely to create new or improved habitats for flora and fauna,” pointed out Kamel based on the impact study.

Aside from high-level dust build-up during construction and the threat of eliminating precious coral reefs and rare fish species, the power plant will burn natural gas as its primary fuel. As a result, the principle pollutant during normal operation will be Nitrogen Oxide. During emergency operation, the burning of light fuel oil will result in emissions of particulate matter and Sulfur Oxide along with trace amounts of other pollutants, highlighted Kamel.

Furthermore, the assessment group argues that because Nuweiba is at present a small town with a relatively small population, part of the local work force is expected to come from the greater South Sinai area. Experiences from elsewhere have shown that when large numbers of workers move into an area, as is bound to happen during construction of the power plant, problems associated with increased pressure on public services may arise. These problems are anticipated, and some measures have been put in place to address them, specifically the development of a colony – a self-contained settlement for plant workers including housing, water and sanitary facilities, school, health center, playground and mosque – in the project area prior to project inception. A total of US$ 5.39 million has been allocated in the project costing to cover associated costs, said the ESIA assessment team.

Additionally, a policy in place in South Sinai to guarantee companies working in the area land needed to build housing for their employees. Other than the desert nomadic communities known as the Bedouins, who dwell in diverse locales and account for about 17 percent of the total South Sinai governorate, no distinct historical or cultural features are known to exist in the project area. Therefore, cultural conflicts resulting from migration into the project area is unlikely. The risk of spread of communicable diseases is also considered low, said the power plant stakeholders.

Somehow, on the labor front, the project could be beneficial to the national economy while mass lay-offs due to the meltdown in the Middle East, Dubai and the rest of the Gulf area have forced employers to send Egyptian workers home. (Just last Friday, Kuwait deported 100,000 expat workers.)

Meanwhile, the battle is on between tourism stakeholders and plant developers, calling to mind that a few years back, one power plant got the boot from the locals. Some five years ago, tourism investors, businessmen and environmentalists fought off a planned take-over of one of the richest coral reef areas in the world, Giftun Island near Hurghada on the Red Sea.

Former Prime Minister Atef Ebeid and former Tourism Minister Mamdouh El Beltagui were involved. They brokered the deal selling Giftun island to Italian multi-million dollar real estate and design firm Ernesto Preatoni Immobiliare (EPI). They asked for $2 billion to be paid over 10 years. Within hours, from Cairo to Hurghada, people staged huge demonstrations. A mini-revolution sparked to save marine life and the island. President Mubarak stepped in and heard his people. And within days, the Italian agenda went down the toilet. The world-class reef island of Giftun was forever preserved in its natural beauty.

Today, Hesham Kamel and Nuweiba tourism leaders believe their plight will take a similar path of saving Nuweiba.