Slums in Egypt have always been understood to be a ticking bomb. Initially, concerns were primarily over informal or random housing areas becoming or being hotbeds of crime. But as the construction of informal settlements increased exponentially, due to rapid population growth and migration from the countryside, the problem became broader and more visible.
But it was the 2008 Doweia disaster that truly brought the issue to the headlines. The collapse of a rock face on the edge of Moqattam led to the deaths of tens and the injury of scores living in slums below, reminding people of the urgency of addressing housing challenges.
According to a reported statement by high ranking official with the Local Development Authority, random housing and slums constitute around 40 per cent of urban areas around Egypt, a figure echoed by President Mohamed Morsi in a recent address. The same source states that Cairo alone has 1000 random housing settlements, with 300 in need of immediate removal due to lack of safety while the rest remain in dire need of facilities and proper development.
President Morsi recently stated that there have been around 600,000 cases of illegal construction on agricultural land since the beginning of the 2011 revolution alone.
While definitions, and thus the count, of “random housing” vary, all figures are troubling. In 2009, studies of random housing in Egypt estimated of the number of people living in them reportedly averaged between 7.17 to 15 million people, a massive number at either end. The numbers have since increased.
The larger estimates include not only people living in houses that were insecurely constructed, and thus subject to potential collapse, or those built without proper legal licenses, but also people living in graveyards, mosques, slums, incomplete buildings and other non-conventional and non-viable housing.
Officials and experts remain divided over how to address these challenges. An early preference focused on relocation into proper low-cost housing projects. But as the numbers of informal settlements continued to grow, the prospects of such mass relocation lowered.
The second approach focused on engaging the safer segments of such settlements, providing them with government aid for the purpose of developing them into viable living spaces, while only using relocation for the most dangerous and unviable of areas.
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