Tourist trash (3 tons of it) in the White Desert

This article  by Andrew Stelzer in the Seattle Times made me feel very cold. The White Desert is a remarkable place and I was only talking with a group of people the other day about the benefits or otherwise that tourism would have in terms of its total impact on the oases in the vicinity of the White Desert and on the White Desert itself.
Stelzer was part of a week-long operation to clean up the White Desert.  After arriving from Cairo he and his colleagues settled into the task.  One of his paragraphs is worth quoting in full:
“The next day, a six-hour van ride brought us into a vast sea of sand, seemingly empty except for its curious eruptions of white rock, scattered around like so many Martian toys. A twisted pillar over here, a giant mushroom shape over there. Surely, some speculated, people who come to this place must be environmental types. They wouldn’t be chucking a lot of litter everywhere.
Two days later, we compared notes on some of the junk we’d found buried in the sand. The most unusual was definitely the fishing twine, but also on the list were a couple pairs of pants, one Birkenstock, a set of plastic silverware, a broken watch, a few used condoms and a toothbrush.
My finds: lots of cans and bottles, including some that once contained British pear cider, several packs of cheese from Greenland, a bunch of cigarette cartons (“Cleopatra” being the favored brand in Egypt) and an endless stream of toilet paper.”
Stelzer says that 80,000 people visit the White Desert annually. They come to see the marvellous white limestone shapes that sprout out of the desert floor, and they leave their trash behind to deface it.  Three tons of it.  Three tons!
Three tons of rubbish was far more horrific than I had speculated upon. There have often been critical comments about the way in which Egypt manages her heritage, but here we have a case of the boot being firmly on the other foot, and it dismays me utterly that as visitors any of us should treat this very special place with such disrespect.
And it is being cleaned up by the locals.  Work parties composed of well meaning outsiders is a good gesture, but the real burden falls on those who live in the oasis towns and villages.  It’s a disgrace that tourists should behave in this way.  Although the White Desert is, in theory, a protected zone in Egypt, there are insufficient resources to make this matter although Stelzer says that a tour guide training course significantly improved the management of tourists and their unpleasent habits.  As both a tour guide and a tourist I am truly ashamed of the way in which tourists behave.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: