Tuesday,24 April, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)
Tuesday,24 April, 2018
Issue 1349, (15 - 21 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Safe as houses

Governorates declare war on illegal buildings

Safe as houses
Safe as houses

“The demolition process is in its final stage. We will finish demolishing the building this weekend,” head of Alexandria Central District Ali Morsi told Ahmed Morsy.

Morsi was referring to the now notorious 13-storey apartment building in the Alexandria neighbourhood of Azaritta which two weeks ago began to incline dramatically, to the point where it was only being supported by the building opposite to it on the narrow street. 

The demolition is being done manually, from top to bottom, by the army’s Northern Zone Engineering Division in coordination with the Arab Contractors Company, Petrojet Company and the Alexandria University Faculty of Engineering. 

The operation entailed the evacuation of the opposite building and of neighbouring structures. Security forces have cordoned off the area, preventing pedestrians from approaching as a precaution.

Al-Touni Mohamed, a professor in concrete at Alexandria University who is supervising the demolition, says he has never seen such a sharp incline in an apartment building before.

“We decided to demolish it gradually, by hand, from the top. The decision was taken after reviewing the condition of the building and that of its neighbours, the machinery and equipment available and the length of the surrounding streets,” Mohamed told Al-Ahram Weekly. Though it is a painstaking and lengthy process it was the safest option.

Months before the apartment block began to lean dramatically residents noticed a slight incline and reported their concerns to the district administration.

“It began with small things,” says Nabil, a resident of the building being demolished. “The doors of some rooms refused to stay closed for example. Later we noticed that the pavement in front of the building had started to curve. We went to the head of the district to report these things.”

“We have known about building code violations in this apartment building since it was constructed in 2003,” says Morsi. “The original licence was for a three-storey structure but in the end 13 floors were illegally constructed,” he told the Weekly. “In 2004 a demolition order was issued but the municipal authorities were not able to implement it due to the objections of the residents. The tenants chose to live there at their own risk.”

The collapse of buildings, a common occurrence in Egypt, is usually the result of poor maintenance, building code violations, illegal extensions and lax construction. The problems are compounded by corruption in local district administrations which issue construction licences. But it appears some governorates are finally getting their act together and undertaking inspection campaigns at construction sites.

Last week Alexandria governorate, in coordination with the security directorate, intervened to prevent the construction of seven illegal structures in Agami. Building materials and equipment were seized and legal actions begun against the owners.

Alexandria Governor Mohamed Sultan appealed to all relevant administrative bodies to monitor any irregularities and hold accountable any officials who aid and abet illegal construction.

“Citizens should consult district authorities before buying or having dealings with the owners of apartment buildings. They need to check the legal status of buildings so as not to endanger their lives,” said Sultan.

Ahmed Sakr, the governor of Gharbeya, has advised residents to check with the local authorities before buying of renting housing units.

“They should only buy or rent after ensuring that the building has a valid construction licence,” said Sakr.

To protect citizens from fraud he has ordered all districts in the governorate to publish lists of buildings that have been illegally constructed on agricultural lands or had unlicensed floors added.

“In the meantime we are seeking to regulate the status of buildings when the law allows this. When it does not the buildings will be demolished at the expense of the owner,” said Sakr.

Whilst inaugurating new projects in the governorate of Qena President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi ordered the police and army to intervene to halt illegal building on state owned land and reclaim areas where such building has taken place.

Alaa Wali, the chairman of parliament’s Housing Committee, said dangerous buildings were a nationwide problem.

“The current problems are a result of the unified construction law of 2008 which handed planning permission decisions to local district administrations. This opened the door wide to corruption and negligence. Bribes were offered and accepted for construction licences with the result that we see — collapsing buildings and others leaning towards one another,” says Wali.

A draft reconciliation law pardoning those guilty of building violations in return for payments should they have infringed on state land, and the covering of the costs of rectifying infringements of the building code, is being discussed by parliament. According to Adel Badawi, a member of the Housing Committee, the law could raise LE90 billion.

Though the draft legislation is contentious Badawi believes it must be passed to end the current chaos.

“The most important condition for reconciliation in the draft law is that any structure be safe, and not built on agricultural land,” he says.

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