CAIRO: Although he was aware of the risks it posed, Mohamed Gharib had no choice but to endure living in the slums of Duweiqa until he watched his home collapse, killing five members of his family.
Gharib, 62, had bought the land 16 years ago in Mansheyet Nasser, to accommodate his family. Hashem Mohamed Ismail, who sold it to him, did not legally own the piece of land but had rather claimed it years earlier.
In September 2008, a massive rockslide in Duweiqa killed over 100 people and injured hundreds more.
“Before the Duweiqa catastrophe, I filed a complaint after engineers examined the house and concluded that it could collapse. The court issued a verdict to eradicate the building and provide the family with six apartments, Gharib said.
However, Gharib laments that it took the government six years and a major disaster to fulfill its promise. “But they never gave us six apartments, even after the catastrophe.
What are slums?
According to the United Nations, a “slum household is a group of individuals living under one roof in an urban area that lacks one or more of the following: durable housing, sufficient living area, access to clean water, access to sanitation and a secure tenure.
While experts never agreed on a specific definition for slums, their interpretations revolve around the idea that it is “the complexes of the population originated in the absence of planning and against the implemented law by construction on agricultural land or property of the state and these areas are deprived from minimum basic facilities.
These basic facilities include clean water, sanitation facilities and enough living space.
However, it is important to clarify that not all poor people live in slums and not all slums are inhabited by poor people but rather slum dwellers.
The UN millennium declaration recognized the importance of addressing the situation of slum dwellers by reducing the overall poverty and advancing human development.
One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is ensuring that by 2020 a total 100 million slum dwellers are living in humane conditions.
Slums in Egypt
In 1914, a ministerial decree called for privatizing all public land, however this decision never materialized resulting in the increase of slum areas, as immigrants from rural areas found refuge in evacuated, unsupervised pieces of land.
There are about 81 areas classified as slums in Cairo out of an approximate 1,000 slum areas in Egypt.
Over the past 25 years, Egypt has lost over 400 acres of agricultural land to building slums, which have increased three-fold over the last two decades.
The population of slum dwellers constitutes more than 25 percent of Egypt’s population – 62 percent of Cairo’s population and 35 percent of Alexandria’s are considered slum dwellers.
The government is keen on eradicating such slum areas, namely because of an alleged link between them and the rise of terrorist groups.
“The official concern with slums began in 1992, when the state felt the gravity of Islamic groups and decided to deal with it. [The concern] with slums was due to the security threat, rather than its residents’ safety, explained Mamdouh El-Wali, the assistant chief editor of Al-Ahram for Economic Affairs in an article published on swissinfo.ch .
There are different types of slums that mainly depend on the economic activity of the residents, the building structure and the residents themselves.
Squatters, which is a more specific term than slums, are built on land that people illegally claim.
Squatters are not architecturally planned, they are makeshift huts and shacks.
Others also take shelter in Cairo’s graveyards. There are about 1.5 million people living in the ‘city of the death,’ in graveyards at El-Basateen and El-Imam El-Shafie.
According to a 1980 research conducted by the Sociology department at Cairo University, the grave residents are an outcome of internal flock immigration within the country.
The rise in slum areas is not only a result of rural immigration, but is also attributed to the dilapidated state of public housing.
In the mid 50s, the government built houses for the low income population. However, it was unable to keep up with the maintenance and living conditions deteriorated, turning into slum areas.
Are slum areas ticking bombs?
The Duweiqa rockslide was a turning point for many unprivileged slum dwellers. The Ministry of Social Solidarity, Health and Local Development initiated plans with a focus on the population itself.
According to the Egyptian Red Crescent the Egyptian government was able to provide a capacity of 400 units to accommodate more than 14,000 inhabitants for the victims of the rockslide.
“We now live in the Suzanne Mubarak housing in Duweiqa, Gharib said. He explained that after the catastrophe, the governorate provided him with a two-bedroom apartment which he says is smaller than his previous home.
“The government does act but at a very slow rate, not to mention the corruption we have been enduring, he said.
He explained that despite the government’s efforts to give the people their rights back, there have been people who are abusing their power and taking bribes to help them.
Part 2 of this story will be published in the Feb. 18 issue.