The current economic situation in Dahab and South Sinai, Egypt is dire because of now almost non existent income from tourism which is the mainstay of the area for most inhabitants. In the beginning of 2016 it is like the tap has been closed to a rusty trickle with no plumber in sight as the powers that be in various countries indulge in their machinations. The Egyptian horse and stable owners in Dahab now find themselves in an untenable situation with little alternative than to try and survive.
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These current stable owners remaining after years of attrition are generally committed responsible owners who, through no fault of their own are left high and dry with horses and families to care for with no sign of any income. I spoke with one of these whom I consider to be responsible and he is in his words “very tired”, exhausted. He has taken food on credit and now the delivery trucks are refusing to supply him with food for his horses.
The situation in Dahab has been difficult with regards to declining tourist numbers for some years now. The 2011 Egyptian Political Revolution had some impact but generally there was enough work for all and those responsible owners always managed to present their horses well. The true downturn was the military coup of midyear 2013 and since then the decline in tourist numbers has affected all businesses here. The Metroliner falling out of the sky onto Sinai desert after taking off from Sharm el Sheikh with no confirmed reasons has been the nail in the coffin.
In 2013, a group called Dahab Horse Initiative was started by a worried horse lover and they managed to save a number of starving horses after the coup, although some did die. Their owners shrugged the deaths off as a possible virus but quite frankly there is nothing viral about lack of sufficient food. The rescued horses were variably given food, or purchased and sent to Cairo; some owners left town, others just went out of business or faded into the shadows.
The original group of Dahab Horse Initiative has been resurrected as Horse Aid Dahab under the banner of the local registered charity Animal Welfare Dahab. (This latter group focuses mainly on Trap Neuter and Release programmes for dogs and cats and has had great success over the past few years.)
Horse Aid Dahab is proposing to raise funds to give current owners some relief from the continual stress by at least knowing the horses will have enough food. It costs about 25 Euro/Pounds to feed hay per horse per month, maybe 50 Euro/Pounds for total food. There are other costs of course with water, rent, staff so about 100 Euro per month per horse. I estimate there are currently less than twenty-five horses in the area including those based south in the Wadi Gnai area.
I think good hay is an absolute requirement for these animals so if we can raise 650 Euro per month Horse Aid Dahab can purchase enough hay to supplement the horse’s food over the next six months. We do not want to favour any particular owner nor do we want to only support those who are less responsible. (While we are aware that ultimately it is the horses that suffer, in the past groups have only supported these dubious characters.)
Keeping horses in a desert environment is never going to be easy however as the manager of Blue Beach club Stables for five years I have been surprised at how well they thrive providing they are offered good water, food and shade. Food for animals is easy to come by although not cheap and the predominant foods offered are drees hay, corn and grass chaff. (Blue Beach horses have all been moved to Cairo outskirts as their owner has other alternatives for income.)
Drees hay is made from a legume called barseem which looks the same as alfalfa/lucerne but grows larger leaves like red clover. The plant is cut and dried then baled into mini bales of varying size and weight often about 60 x 30 rectangles. A horse should consume a minimum of one of these a day plus hard feed depending on individual requirements. They currently cost about 5 Egyptian pounds – a little more than 60 pence in Euro terms.
Horses relish the plant fresh but can only be offered it in Dahab during the winter as in summer it wilts and rot on the back of the truck during the sometimes up to twelve hour journey through myriads of check points to reach here; by then it is nothing more than stinking mush suitable for compost.
None of these stable owners are Bedouin so they have no support from family here. In fact the reason they originally came away from their homes in mainland Egypt as I call it, was because of the money making opportunities from taking tourists for regular rides. As young men it was their responsibility to make money and send it home to their families on the Delta or Fayoum where many of the men originate from. It is too glib to say “Why don’t these men just pack up and go home” as now many have their immediate families living here with wives and children. They have been sticking it out in the hope that things will improve and even if they went ‘home’ there are no new possibilities of jobs open to them either.
Check out Horse Aid Dahab Facebook page for current updates
and how to make a donation in Egypt. Other donations to Horse aid Dahab can be made via Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org