Egypt’s slum dwellers’ relocation project faces challenge
Cairo - Funding shortages, lack of public cooperation and rising construction costs threaten to stall a project for the relocation of millions of Egyptians from dangerous slums to safe housing.
“A huge funding gap is facing the project,” Deputy Housing Minister Ahmed Adel Darwish said. “We have alerted the president to this gap but he promised to work hard to sort it out.”
About 15.5 million Egyptians live in more than 350 slums in five provinces in what has been called by housing and urban planning experts a “national disgrace”. Almost 40% of the slums are in Cairo. They emerged against the background of rising housing prices and the urban crush in the last few decades.
Slum dwellers have been viewed by the government and many fellow Egyptians as a “nuisance” and a “shameful reality”. Many structures in which they live lack electricity, drinking water and sewage removal.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has tried to tackle the housing issue, starting the project to move people from slums to safe housing.
In May, Sisi had 10,000 families moved from Manshiet Nasser, which houses about 55,000 people, to a beautiful compound called Asmarat. It includes 40,000 flats on Mokattam Hills, not far from Manshiet Nasser.
Only 18,000 flats have been constructed in the Asmarat project, which will cost more than $100 million, according to Mohamed Ashmawi, executive director of the Long Live Egypt Fund, founded by Sisi to collect donations from the public for projects such as Asmarat, offer free medical treatment to the poor and increase sewer infrastructure.
He said since its founding in June 2014, the fund had received nearly $800 million. Sisi had donated half of his savings and half of his salary to the fund.
As generous as the donations have been, the money is dwarfed by the $1.6 billion expected to be needed to complete the project. It is expected to be completed within two years but a lack of funding could affect that schedule. Darwish said just $168 million is available for the project this year.
“The president has promised to work hard to solve funding problems,” he said.
Sisi has often urged the public to donate to the relocation project and Long Live Egypt Fund. On one occasion, he appealed to every member of the public to donate 1 Egyptian pound every day via text.
“If ten million Egyptians donate a pound by sending a text message every morning, we will collect 300 million pounds every month, 4 billion every year,” Sisi said in February. That would be about $450 million a year.
The relocation project is one of several measures adopted by the Sisi administration to achieve social justice. He has maintained that he would not rest until Egypt’s slum dwellers are moved to safe housing.
That project, however, faces a large number of hurdles, including the sharp rise in the price of construction materials.
In 2010, slum development experts estimated the cost of relocating the 15.5 million residents of the country’s most dangerous slums at $95.7 million.
“We did not relocate these residents then but now the cost of relocating them has almost doubled,” said slum development expert Sherif al-Gohari. “If we do not implement the project now, its cost will be triple or even four-fold this amount of money a few years from now.”
The government has said that there will be 29 million slum dwellers by 2050 if no action is taken.