In 2019, with the hope of improving the lives of underprivileged Egyptians, the government launched its Decent Life Initiative (Hayah Karima), a national project for the development of the Egyptian countryside. How much progress has been accomplished thus far in this momentous enterprise?
The initiative targets half of Egypt’s 102-million population that lives in 4,658 villages across the country, most of which have suffered from neglect. It will bring about change in many aspects of the lives of people in these villages, notably by investing in human capital, the abilities of the village inhabitants themselves, and by raising the quality of development services.
The initiative will also stimulate economic development and build basic but fundamental infrastructure, provide decent housing including access to clean water, sewage, sanitation, electricity, gas, and communications, and back the most in-need families with small and micro projects. It will fund and set up medical, educational, and community services by building 13,000 classrooms and expanding health facilities and hospitals through the new Universal Health Insurance System.
The initiative was initiated in 2019 by focusing on Egypt’s poorest villages, where almost half the population was living below the poverty line. In December 2020, it expanded to include over 4,500 villages within the framework of Egypt’s Sustainable Development Strategy: Vision 2030. It will run through 2023.
The budget of the Decent Life Initiative is estimated at LE700 billion, while the stakeholders include all ministries and state agencies, NGOs, the private sector, and donors from abroad and within Egypt. It goes without saying that the initiative is taxing financially since nothing of this magnitude has ever been pursued before in Egypt’s modern history.
The project is inspirational as it is the biggest development project in Egypt in terms of funding and number of beneficiaries, and it galvanises all state institutions and civil society behind it so as to implement its goals. More importantly, it will shift the lives of those targeted from a stifling and stagnant status quo to a more modern and promising situation.
Due to the enormous volume of work required, the initiative focused first on villages having a 70 per cent poverty rate, then on villages with poverty rates between 50 and 70 per cent, and finally in the third phase on villages with a 50 per cent poverty rate. The 4,658 villages were divided into three phases of nearly 1,500 each. The first phase, whose budget is estimated at LE250 billion, is to be completed by the end of the 2021-22 fiscal year.
So far, the initiative has succeeded in reducing poverty rates and providing critical services to the targeted villages by approximately 11 per cent and resulted in improvements in access to basic services by 50 per cent plus its contribution to mitigating the Covid-19 pandemic.
As far as drinking water and sewage projects are concerned, 700 projects covering different villages nationwide have been implemented.
Up to 4.46 million people benefited from the Decent Life Initiative in its first phase, with a total of 600 national projects and services at a LE13.5 billion cost. Another 1,580 projects were completed by the end of 2021.
Gamil Helmi, assistant minister of planning and economic development, reviewed indicators that spoke of many notable achievements. The initiative has resulted in “villages with a health unit reaching 71.6 per cent in 2020, and the percentage of villages with natural gas connections to 7.4 per cent in 2020, and the increase in the percentage of villages with civil and charitable societies to 83 per cent in 2020,” he said.
“It has reduced the poverty rate by 11 per cent, which has led to an improvement in the overall quality of life index.”
A case in point is Markaz Motobas in the Kafr El-Sheikh governorate. Markaz Motobas has a population of 303,000 and has suffered from drinking water shortages, a lack of adequate and appropriate schools, hospitals, and healthcare units, and unemployment. Most of its homes lacked the necessary basics, and it was where illegal immigration trips en route to European countries took off from, with many illegal voyages launched from there.
All in all, the quality of life was poor. Today, Decent Life projects undertaken in Markaz Motobas have been changing the lives of its citizens by providing the tools and necessary means to bring about the dignified life that every Egyptian deserves.
Today, there is a different story altogether in Markaz Motobas. Over 595 projects are being completed, including 48 sewage projects, 21 drinking water projects, 24 projects in the health sector, 85 projects in education, and 21 projects in youth and sports centres. Over 12 projects in the irrigation and water resources sectors will be completed soon. Hundreds of roads will be paved. Homes will access natural gas, electricity, telephone lines, and high-speed Internet connections.
The Decent Life Initiative is a project like no other. It aims to replace the current dilapidated state of the Egyptian countryside, making it more modern and including all dimensions of sustainable development and dignity. It provides rural Egyptians with a decent life, something they have always deserved but up to now have seldom attained.
* The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.