October 2010

In September 2010, 110 tons of diesel were spilled into the River Nile near Aswan, Egypt. Slicks dispersed rapidly and oil overwhelmed aquatic life. Located 7km from the slick area is a UNESCO tentative natural World Heritage site, Bird Migration Routes.

This location is an important stopover site for many bird species travelling between Europe and their African wintering grounds. The oil spill, in early autumn, came at a time when the area is used heavily by migrating birds. Birds such as the ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca) regularly feed in this area.

The Nature Conservation Sector of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency applied for a small grant from the Rapid Response Facility (RRF), to evaluate the health of Nile birdlife following the spill. The RRF decided that if the area was to remain dangerous to birdlife, it could lead to high mortality around one of the most important flyways on the continent.

The RRF was therefore pleased to award $8,400 for cleaning of the affected area through traditional ‘oil containment booms’, made locally of rice straw, sacks and bamboo. Only seven days elapsed between the day RRF received the application, and the day the proponent was informed that it had been successful. During those seven days, a thorough analysis was done of the proposal, which included detailed input from third party experts called upon to provide their opinions, as well as an analysis of the capacity of the proponent to carry out the work.

After determining the extent of the polluted areas and performing the clean-up operation, the long-term plan is to develop a regional action plan for dealing with similar crises in the future. A winter bird count will be conducted during the 2010-2011 winter period, with the results expected to be used to propose an area north of the spill site as an Important Bird Area (IBA).

These important waterways provide vital transport links. Credit: NCS-EEAA
The oil spill caused widespread destruction. Credit: Haitham Ibrahim
One of the bird species affected by the spill. Credit: NCS-EEAA
One of the bird species affected by the spill. Credit: NCS-EEAA