Development project in Dahshour aims to preserve local culture, heritage

Daily News Egypt
7 Min Read

CAIRO: A new project by various United Nations organizations and their Egyptian counterparts aims to revitalize the Dahshour area of Saqqara, making it a tourist location, while protecting the delicate ecosystem and conducting community development.

The project, which held its “inception workshop Saturday, is a cooperative effort of five UN agencies and their Egyptian counterparts. While the inception workshop just occurred, the project officially launched last year, and work began six months ago, according to event organizers.

“This project shows the capacity of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) for one of its main goals: the preservation and development of heritage sites, said Gihane Zaki, an SCA spokeswoman chairing the event.

The project hopes to prepare the Dahshour area for an influx of tourists, without compromising local lives or ecosystems. The project leaders want to get Dahshour’s large palm grove and lake included in the UNESCO World Heritage site, currently encompassing the Giza Necropolis and the Zoser pyramid sites.

The organizers plan to train local inhabitants of Dahshour in craft-making, communicating with tourists in English, and other skills necessary to profit from the expected tourism influx.

The joint initiative is an alphabet soup of international and domestic organizations. On the international side, the program involves the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Tourism Organization (WTO), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

On the domestic side, the initiative involves the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the Ministry of Tourism, the Egyptian Social Fund for Development, the Industrial Modernization Center, and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency.

The program, with 10 independent organizations working in concert, is among the first of its kind.

Tarek Naga, a UN staffer associated with the project, said the initiative is being watched closely by the rest of the UN.

“A lot of people are expecting a lot out of this as a template, he told Daily News Egypt.

“This program is in many ways unique, said James W. Rawley, the UN resident coordinator in Egypt. “This approach has the potential to build synergy between people, cultures, and resources.

“It is crucial this program provide opportunities for employment, he added.

The initiative plans to create a small souq and eco-lodge in Dahshour, both run by local residents.

The goal is to “promote innovative and creative industries… from the local material and local people, said Mohamed Shaker, the program’s manager.

To that end, the project’s first “focus is on capacity development of the community, Shaker said.

The initiative has created a “local economic development forum employing 3,000 Dahshour inhabitants. The forum is designed to train locals in technical skills entrepreneurial growth and development and participation in trade fairs. “This forum is very important to ensure the engagement of the community, he added.

Rawley echoed the sentiment. “Our experience suggests poverty must be aided in this holistic manner, he said.

Preserving heritage

Thus, including the Dahshour palm grove and lake in the UNESCO World Heritage site is an imperative part of the initiative.

“Dahshour is still the most pristine area on the entire plateau, said Naga.

“The palm grove runs the whole range of the site, he added. “We want the official boundaries to include the palm groves as a barrier part of the World Heritage site.

To make the case for this inclusion, Naga and his team are cataloging old photographs and other pieces of historical evidence to prove the palm grove is a traditional part of the heritage site.

“The palm groves . are part of the character of ancient times, he said.

“Cultural heritage is tangible and intangible, he said. To cover all aspects, Naga said his team is creating a database for “every single monument in the whole site.

“You will have a complete database for everything from Giza to Dahshour, he said.

Mansour Aqabawy, a Dahshour village leader and one of the participants in the initial local economic development forum, said the initiative has so far been commendable, especially for how the organizers are considerate of the community.

“We are happy to work with the conference, he said. “This is beneficial for all of Dahshour.

However, in a public comment session following the presentation, Aqabawy expressed some concerns.

He said he hoped the initiative would not harm Dahshour’s agriculture with “big machines, endangering local crops, such as the area’s famous apricots. He also said he hoped Dahshour’s lake would be preserved, and asked if ultimately Dahshour could be made a government protectorate, like the area around St. Katherine’s Monastery in Sinai.

Organizers assured Aqabawy Dahshour would remain protected.

The entire initiative is funded by a $14.6 million grant from the Kingdom of Spain, as part of Spain’s efforts to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

“The government of Spain is fully committed to preservation and helping development, said Antonio Lopez Martinez, Spain’s ambassador to Egypt. “The Spanish government places great importance on the relationship between .culture and meeting development objectives.

“Culture is an essential element for sustainable development, he said.

Martinez added that, despite recent economic difficulties, Spanish support for the project would continue.

“Development is not just a policy for wealthy times, Martinez said. “Despite the economic difficulty, it is more important than ever that countries maintain their aid.

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