Egypt takes steps towards eliminating slums
By Mohammed Mahmoud in Cairo
The Egyptian government has begun to implement a plan to improve slum areas and informal settlements in all provinces, and to evacuate residents from unsafe areas, relocating them to purpose-built housing in new cities.
The government is taking proactive action to rescue residents living in areas classified as "unsafe to withstand natural disasters", said Slum Development Fund executive director Khaled Siddiq.
He pledged that all unsafe areas -- where dwellings are built shoddily or on other people's property, in highly polluted or unsafe industrial areas, or swamp areas with polluted drinking water -- will be eliminated by the end of 2019.
Siddiq noted that 14 billion Egyptian pounds ($792 million) have been spent on the development of informal settlements and slum areas over the past two years.
The Slum Development Fund’s policies are based on "achieving the principle of social justice, guaranteeing citizens’ right to safe housing and improving living and economic conditions", Siddiq said.
This is achieved through partnerships with the provinces and local authorities as well as residents, the private sector and civil society, he added.
As an example of the dangers of informal settlements, he pointed to a recent rockslide that fell on the Dweika area of the Manshiet Nasser slum on the eastern outskirts of Cairo.
In September 2008, a rockslide in the same area -- which has since been classified as unsafe and has been vacated of residents -- caused up to 50 homes to collapse, and killed up to 250 people.
In January, another rockslide "fell in the Fawzi Aliwa quarry area, one of the areas that had been evacuated and whose residents were moved to the new Asmarat district as part of the government's efforts to move residents out of unsafe areas to new cities", the Slum Development Fund said in a statement.
According to the January 29th statement, the government evacuated the area about a year ago after a scientific-geological committee it dispatched to study the Dweika area determined it was unsafe.
A two-pronged strategy
The Slum Development Fund has a two-pronged strategy to address the problems arising from informal settlements.
The first objective is to rid the country of unsafe informal settlements and slum areas by the end of 2019, Siddiq said.
This would involve the resettlement of families living in those areas in the same locations or in the closest areas to them in co-operation with the local authorities of each province, civil society organisations and the private sector.
The second objective involves the development of unplanned areas throughout the country to ensure these areas do not become unsafe for habitation.
The long-term objective of the slum elimination strategy is "comprehensive urban development to stop rural migration to cities and prevent the emergence of new slum areas", he said.
Unsafe areas in many provinces already have been evacuated as part of an initiative that is the first of its kind in more than three decades, Siddiq said.
Port Saeed will be the first province to be declared free of slums and unplanned areas, he said.
Projects implemented in Port Saeed include the New Nawras project, which includes 860 housing units that are ready for delivery, and the completed Hazaer Abu Awf project, which includes 352 housing units.
A third project consists of 826 further housing units.
Most slums are in Cairo
In Cairo, which has the largest number of slums, the authorities began moving quickly about two years ago to eliminate slums and unsafe areas.
The Cairo plan seeks to move residents of unsafe areas as soon as possible to new residential cities built in co-operation with the Slum Development Fund.
The budget for the development of informal areas in the capital "has reached 6.5 billion Egyptian pounds ($368 million) based on the value of the protocols signed by the province with the Slum Development Fund and other entities", said Khalil Shaath, head of the informal areas upgrade unit in Cairo.
The plan includes the provision of 50,000 housing units for the residents of informal settlements and slum areas in the province, he told Al-Mashareq.
"The Ahlina 1 and al-Mahrousa 1 projects were inaugurated recently," he said.
Al-Mahrousa project includes 3,168 housing units, he said, while the Ahlina project was established to relocate families living on the Teraat al-Tawarea axis and includes 25 12-story residential buildings.
In total, there are 1,064 three-bedroom housing units, he said, along with 104 shops, a mall, a school, a health care centre, a banquet hall, a playing field, green spaces and parking spaces.
Investing in the people
The effort to tackle Egypt's slums "has seen an unprecedented achievement in terms of fulfilling the government's programme to provide safe and suitable housing to every citizen", said Egyptian MP Montaser Riyad, who serves on the parliamentary housing and utilities committee.
"The government is committed to the development of a large number of slums and unsafe areas, and the immediate elimination of an unsafe area once its residents are moved to new housing units," he told Al-Mashareq.
These efforts will enable Egypt to eliminate the slums by the end of 2019, he said, and show the government's commitment to investing in its people.
The plan to eliminate slums is based on "the principle of providing a safe life, safe housing and high quality health care, as well as educational facilities for the youth in these cities", he added.