Hope from the ruins
By Mohsen Zahran
The catastrophe of the shantytown of Dweiqa, near the Moqattam plateau east of Cairo, echoes tragedies that have shocked the nation with hundreds dead and injured, from the Shura Council grand fire and its embarrassing exposure of inept authorities, the Red Sea ferryboat tragedy with 1034 passengers drowned, to train crashes and fires and the collapse of apartment buildings -- all point accusing fingers to those who govern.
Each tragedy betrays a flagrant lack of preparedness, of resources, of facilities, of expertise, along with inaction and poor management. The death toll, especially from the poor, needy and downtrodden classes, has been staggering. Others now fearfully await future Dweiqa-like tragedies to strike. What is more distressing is that expert reports forewarned of pending tragedies. Academics pointed out the dangers of shantytowns, which are also havens for poverty, fanaticism, crime, drugs and disease where unemployment, deprivation, congestion and illiteracy are rife. In addition, they are environmental liabilities: unsafe, unhealthy, and fire hazards.
The squatter crisis is overwhelming -- the figures staggering, testifying to the corruption, laxity, collusion, inefficiency and apathy of government. Elsewhere, most apartment buildings in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities lack proper fire escape stairways and emergency procedures. Governorates, organisations, institutions and other establishments, public or private, should value human life, human safety and environmental security. They must mobilise resources and capabilities and begin immediately adopting plans and policies for emergencies, with quality control and assurance. Meanwhile, squatter-like manifestations plague the Egyptian psyche, transposed into buildings, to rooftops, to the street and in people's conduct, all which require drastic intervention and change.
The solution must begin with the reawakening of the national conscience. Continuous, solid commitment to face all the challenges ahead and to institute proactive reform is mandatory at all levels, sectors and regions. This reform must be multi-layered and multi-targeted to deal with corruption, inefficiency, negligence, apathy and neglect. Demolition of unsafe, unhealthy and illegal squats must not be delayed, coupled with the building of new urban nuclei away from the traditional axis of the Nile Valley for a balanced distribution of Egypt's population. Local government reform must begin immediately.
This week's Soapbox speaker is a professor of planning at the University of Alexandria.