Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Defusing the social bomb

President Al-Sisi has inaugurated the first and second phases of a major housing project, reports Reem Leila

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Al-Ahram Weekly

More than 16 million people out of a population of over 90 million currently live in slum areas, most of which are in the Greater Cairo metropolitan area. Inhabitants are forced to live in inhumane conditions, owing to a severe shortage of affordable housing in the cities.

They suffer from a lack of electricity and sewage services and are subjected to mistreatment by the state, including regular forced evictions. In a recent report, the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) said that there are more than 1,000 slums in Egypt, with more than 300 of them in Greater Cairo.

In an attempt to help slum dwellers, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated the first and second phases of the Tahya Misr housing project in Asmarat district in Moqattam Heights on 30 May. The project includes nearly 11,000 residential units at a cost of LE1.5 billion. The first phase is being built on 65 acres and includes 6,258 apartments at a cost of LE850 million, funded by Cairo governorate’s development budget.

The second stage will be financed by the Tahya Misr fund on an area of 61 acres. The land is owned by the Armed Forces, which covered the LE700 million cost of the second phase. This stage will include 4,722 apartments. Part of the government’s strategy is to build similar residential areas in Al-Doweka, Establ Antar and Ezbet Kheir.

Both phases of the project were launched in January 2015 and completed in record time. The units are allocated for the residents of several slum areas in Cairo. The third phase, which was launched in January 2016, will be built on an 80-acre site and is to be implemented within one year. It will include 124 buildings at a cost of LE500 million, to be covered by the Tahya Misr fund.

In his remarks, Al-Sisi emphasised the importance of putting an end to the problem of slums in Egypt within two years. “The government has to fulfill the citizen’s need for decent housing. The private sector and citizens can optimise their role in this regard through their social contributions within the framework of social solidarity,” Al-Sisi said.

The president explained that housing projects serve as a good example of the projects funded by Tahya Misr, which allows citizens who financially contribute to the fund to witness first-hand how their contributions are being turned into socially beneficial projects.

“The government, along with civil society and media, must continue to fulfill their social role towards the residents of slum areas who will be relocated to new housing units to overcome the problems they face,” the president said.

The ever-growing number of slum dwellers highlights the huge disparity in the distribution of wealth, residential units and unequal access to housing. The Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights (ESCR), an NGO that defends citizens right to adequate housing, said in a recent report that although millions of Egyptians lack proper shelter there are almost six million vacant residential units in Cairo alone. The report also stated that almost 250,000 families own more than three housing units while 18 per cent of families live in one-room units.

However, the problem cannot be reduced to scarce resources or inadequate infrastructure, but rather attributed to the absence of a “social justice” mindset in formulating housing policies, ESCR said in several press statements.

Amnesty International also released a report saying that slum inhabitants should be the priority and that authorities should understand that “housing is a human right”. Manal Al-Tibi, the head of ESCR, said that the way that the current leadership is dealing with slum inhabitants “is very promising and in line with economic and social rights as formulated in Egypt’s new constitution”.

Al-Sisi expressed his appreciation to the contributors to the first two phases of the housing project in Asmarat Heights. He called on people living in slums to cooperate with the relevant authorities to evacuate the slums and be relocated to enable authorities to build new residential units. He said the state will cover the cost of providing alternative housing opportunities for people living in slum areas for one year, until the third phase of the project is completed.

The president also expressed his appreciation for civil society organisations that “effectively contribute to social development and deliver better living conditions to citizens”. He lauded their efforts to upgrade houses in Egyptian villages, improve their economies and create jobs.

He directed the Armed Forces to cooperate with the Orman Charity Association to provide the necessary furniture and electric appliances to the housing project in Asmarat. He also thanked Egyptian companies for contributing to the project and noted the role of the business community “that has fully covered the costs of developing a slum area in Alexandria, thus setting an example of social contribution to development”.

According to Al-Tibi, slum areas started to crop up in Cairo in the 1950s for a variety of reasons, including internal migration of Egyptians seeking better living conditions, the expansion of a capitalist economy, overpopulation and high birth rates.

Inhabitants of these areas suffer from a lack of basic services. They have no electricity, water pipes or sewage systems, and as a result are left to deal with extreme heat in the summer and cold nights in winter.

 

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