By Ahmed Shams, PhD
A community response and essential maps
The outline of Rugum Plan is based on the Gebaliya “people of the mountains” Bedouin community response, led by tourism business leaders, to the trekking accident of the Egyptian tourists in the vicinity of Gebel Bab El Donya (2,090m ASL) last week. I crystallised and detailed the ideas of the response into Rugum Plan, based on the detailed maps of my book “Eight Years Wandering in the High Mountains of Sinai Peninsula: A Tale of Two Map”, aiming to stress two main messages: 1) the positive approach and extensive understanding of the local Bedouin community for the mountain tourism industry and its needs; 2) the importance of having integrated development maps to serve the multi development needs of the Sinai’s municipalities.
During the days which followed the Sinai accident, several informal community discussions took place and are still ongoing, to agree on the required needs and measures to increase the safety and rescue standards in the Sinai Mountains. “Rugum” is the plural of “Rugm”, a pile of stones made by the Bedouins to mark the ways across the mountain(s) “Gebel” and along the valley(s) “Wadi” and trough(s) “Naqb”.
The implementation, operation and maintenance costs of Rugum Plan will be covered by direct tourism revenue. In 2010, prior the political transition in Egypt, St. Catherine Monastery and Mount Sinai, the tourism hotspot of the Sinai Mountains, received 450,000 visitors, a figure which has declined by 30-40+% in 2011-2014 (according to the official records). Due to the decline in the flow of tourists, moderate levels of external financial support is needed to fully execute the plan, while the Bedouin local community with minimum support is able to execute part of the needs indicated below.
The waypoints and rescue plan
Based on the Bedouin community response and the crystallised priorities (introduced in cost-based order), the Rugum Plan, aided by extensively detailed multipurpose development map(s)/map-sheets, aims to initially establish mountain junction signs, mountain refuges, mountain rescue points and mountain air/aerial rescue. Tur Sina Map provides the required details for the plan by featuring 205 map-sheets with 2455 named-coded items, other than the un-coded ones, including mountain and local areas, valleys, water resources and dams, archaeological sites, mountain gardens, Bedouin localities, distances, mountain paths, altitude points, geological formations, rainfall belts, vegetation, oases, boulder areas, management zones, infrastructure, etc.
Twenty one mountain junction signs will be engraved on separate rocks, with one meter plus distantly visible pile of rocks “Rugum” next to each sign at the main junctions on tourists’ commonly visited paths. The signs will show the name of the location, direction, name and distance to the destination, and average time to the destination (to be practically calculated). All the signs will be constructed by the efforts of the Gebaliya Bedouins, as it serves a first priority for both the Bedouin guides in case of similar weather (blizzard) which caused the Sinai’s accident, or the guide is not able to lead the tourist group due to an unexpected emergency.
Ten one-room mountain refuges, with a priority of four, will be constructed at the isolated mountain ranges which do not have Bedouin shelters in case of a blizzard, strong wind and/or low temperatures, and to act as an overnight campsite. The mountain refuge below the summit of Gebel Katharina (2642m ASL), built by St. Catherine Monastery, is a very good example of a refuge, and very similar in structure to the ancient Byzantine one-room chapels on Mount Sinai and Gebel El Sefsafa vicinity (average 2050m ASL).
Two mountain rescue points will be introduced at centre and centre west vicinities of the High Mountains of Sinai Peninsula, at Farsh El Ruman (1760m ASL) and Wadi Shagg – Wadi Mathar (Umm Khuraf) junction (1820m ASL) respectively.
Each serves a group of mountain ranges, troughs and valleys to provide first aid equipment, satellite cell-phone communication point and refuge in case of any emergencies. Two to four Bedouin garden owners from the same areas of the rescue points will work at each, on two-week shift basis, to balance and maintain both private and public interest in full commitment to the previously indicated remote areas. Last but not least, mountain air/aerial rescue to operate from Katharina Airport by the Egyptian Air Force, or Sharm El Sheikh Airport by the ‘Multinational Forces and Observers – MFO’.
Rugum Plan is a practical and economically feasible initial rescue and waypoints plan for the High Mountains of Sinai Peninsula, based on a community response, detailed maps and extensive knowledge, taking into consideration the limitations of the financial resources and current political transition in Egypt.
Dr. Ahmed Shams is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Department of Archaeology, Durham University. Over past ten years under Sinai Peninsula Research 2000-2013, he has worked on rural socio-economy, semi-arid watershed management, mountain and desert development, political archaeology, and trans-border studies. He is also the author of Eight years wandering in the High Mountains of Sinai Peninsula: a tale of two maps and Pocket atlas of the Sinai Peninsula: discovering a historical landscape.