CAIRO: Loza Gamal, 24, along with the residents of Establ Antar, were recently relocated to Sixth of October City to live in housing projects offered to the government by telecom mogul Naguib Sawiris.
“The area is cleaner, there is fresh air we can breathe, she said.
Their homes in Establ Antar, a shantytown that was expected to collapse at any time, were bulldozed off as part of the government’s initiative to develop slum areas.
Gamal explained that although they were relocated to a better area, they still face other challenges in transportation to other parts of the country.
“I work in Establ Antar, to go to work I pay LE 10 for the daily round trip, she said.
Gamal makes LE 400 a month as a secretary at a school in Establ Antar.
According to Norhan Moemen, vice director of the “Helm Establ Antar Project, by NGO “Alashanek ya Balady, soon after the Duweiqa crisis, the government took action in Establ Antar.
“They divided the area into squares, evacuating and bulldozing down the houses, said Moemen.
She explained that it is tough for residents of slums to live in Sixth of October City where there are no public services available.
“All we need is proper infrastructure, explained one of the relocated residents.
However, Sherif Gohary, from the Informal Settlement Development Fund (ISDF), maintains that this was the government’s best solution.
“The government’s solution was to move these people to the vacant apartments. So which is better? To relocate to Sixth of October or leave them at risk? Gohary asked.
Many slum dwellers say they would prefer staying put, explaining that living on the outskirts of the city also puts them at risk.
“There was a fire in one of the apartments but we neither have phone lines nor any [fire departments] next to us to be saved, Gamal said.
Moemen explained that the families spoke to the responsible MPs but to no avail.
As part of the initial strategies to develop slum areas, Egypt devised several short, medium and long term plans in cooperation with the private sector and the civil society.
The 2005 presidential campaign portrayed a utopian picture, saying that proper accommodation is the right of every Egyptian citizen.
Spectators were divided on the government’s policies on low-income housing, with some praising the plans that aim to provide basic utilities, and others criticizing them for not addressing the reasons behind the growth of slum areas.
The UN Habitat report, “The State of the World’s Cities 2006-7, praised the Egyptian government for investing in electricity, water and sanitation infrastructure in the country’s vast slum areas.
In late 2005, the Ministry of Housing developed a national plan to eradicate urban slums across the country by the year 2025, allocating a budget of more than $180 million to implement the project.
In an interview with IRIN in 2006, Naglaa Arafa, program analyst with the United Nations Development Program in Cairo, said, “The approach of the government has been to extend basic infrastructure for water, electricity and sewage removal to slum areas.
According to different NGOs, the government takes positive steps towards eradicating poverty in the slum areas poverty, albeit at a slow pace.
On the other hand, the government is simultaneously questioning the role of civil society.
“Part of our plans is to form partnerships with all entities that are keen on improving these areas, like students, media, NGOs, Gohary said. He explained that most importantly, people need to understand that these areas are not fit for living and could result in a social catastrophe.
The ISDF offers training for NGOs to be able to develop the slum areas. “So we are trying to build the capacity of the NGOs, Gohary said.
Working on a budget
In late January 2010, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif drafted a new national initiative for evacuating slum areas. Nazif stressed the importance of clearing off the areas, allocating LE 800 million to the ISDF, which was founded in 2008 under the auspices of Cabinet.
However, Gohary maintains that the ISDF’s current budget is LE 500 million – a sum criticized by experts and NGOs.
“Eradicating [a certain shantytown alone] in Giza would take more than LE 500 million, explained Hamdy Zaghloul, head of the Association of Enterprises for Environmental Conservation.
However, according to ISDF officials, the fund is also used to conduct feasibility studies to determine ways they can help the areas.
Gohary explained that the government builds houses for several families on a quarter of the land and invests in the other parts. This process helps enhance the people’s living standards.
Under the presidential decree 305 for the year 2008, President Hosni Mubarak ordered the establishment of a fund for slums.
The fund is aimed at improving the lives of slum dwellers and particularly people living in unsafe areas, as well as improving coordination and cooperation mechanisms between different local bodies, who will work on the development of shantytowns.
“We follow the UN Habitat definition for slums, by which we should help facilitate building proper accommodation for slum dwellers, said Gohary.
“Slums are divided into unsafe areas and unplanned areas, Gohary said, explaining that the unsafe areas are the ISDF’s main concern.
Unsafe areas are divided into four categories. The first of which is areas that are likely to collapse, and are at risks of rockslides or floods, or places built near the railway system. These are the only areas that require immediate eradication.
The second category, explained Gohary, are the shantytowns built on agricultural areas. The third category includes areas that put health and general hygiene at a high risk with the lack of proper infrastructure or water sanitation.
The fourth category involves areas that were claimed by immigrants. This, according to Gohary, is the toughest to tackle because it mainly involves legal issues with the residents.