The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) tried to return attention to the plight of Kowla villagers in Sohag through a research paper published Wednesday documenting the hardships of the villagers.
The New Urban Communities Authority (NUCA) issued in September 2015 a tender to launch the “New Akhmim City”, with an investment value of EGP 89m, as part of a comprehensive plan to renovate Upper Egyptian cities.
In their research, ECESR met with a group of villagers from Kowla as well as experts and advocates on the issue to document how the establishment of New Akhmim City would affect the lives of villagers.
Some of the construction works of New Akhmim City already started removing lands and infrastructure that were cultivated by Kowla villagers. The NUCA also impugned the ownership of villagers to those fields.
“I have documents from the agricultural reforms authority since 1982 that proves my ownership to this land. I have been paying its rent,” one of the villagers told ECESR in January.
About 500 acres of desert land has been cultivated by Kowla villagers, according to the study, without any help from the government.
Eighty-four families were affected by the decision and it is expected to affect upwards to 1,000 individuals. Some families’ lives grew far worse after the evacuations, and many others fled and were persecuted after the district municipal authority filed reports against them.
Only 118 acres were acknowledged by the government. More than 300 acres were rented by farmers who failed to prove their ownership of the land as they used to pay rent to the Agricultural Reforms Authority since they could not afford to buy it.
Sohag is ranked among the areas with the highest rates of poverty—66% of its citizens are living below the poverty line, according to 2015 figures.
The decision to remove lands cultivated by villagers in Kowla contradicts the state’s propagated development aspirations and announced plans to cultivate the desert.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated a 1.5m acre reclamation project in December 2015, which aims to increase Egypt’s actual agricultural land by 20% outside the Delta region.
Egypt ranked first among countries with the largest rate of desertification of green fields, according to a 2015 UN report.