Egypt: Thousands displaced by rockslide face uncertain future

News and Press Release
Originally published
CAIRO, 16 September 2008 (IRIN) - Thousands of slum dwellers displaced by the 6 September rockslide at Dweiqa and Ezbat Bekhiet face an uncertain fate as they camp out on the streets of Cairo's oldest slum, Manshiet Nasser. Between 30 and 50 homes collapsed, and up to 250 people have died.

The Association for the Development and Emancipation of Women (ADEW), an NGO working in Manshiet Nasser, has put the number of missing at 500.

However, the head of the emergency unit of the Ministry of Health and Housing, Muhammad Sultan, has said that according to the official count, 75 people died and 58 were injured.

The governor of Cairo, Abdel Azim Wazir, said on 12 September that 2,000 apartments would be given to the Dweiqa survivors.

Residents of Dweiqa and Ezbet Bekhiet remain unconvinced, however.

"We have come to expect less and less from this government," said one, living in a tent at a shelter where survivors await resettlement.

"I moved here [Dweiqa] with my family exactly 10 years ago and have repeatedly pleaded to the local council for better housing and safer living conditions. The only answer we got was: 'When someone does die, come back and talk to us'," he said.

Families whose homes have not collapsed but live within the danger zone have said they have been forced by the security forces to evacuate so the area can be levelled and turned into a mass graveyard.

However, many locals refuse to evacuate. Um Salamah, whose home faces the site, says she will not leave until she is certain the government will allocate an apartment for her and her family.

"We were all promised the Suzanne Mubarak apartments [named after the First Lady] but who got what they were promised? If we leave without getting ownership documents for a new place, we risk living on the streets," she said.

False claims

Slum dwellers from nearby shantytowns have taken advantage of the confusion by presenting forged documents to the municipality to illegally secure apartments in a compound long designated for the locals of Manshiet Nasser. To counter this, Abdel Fatah Abdel Aziz, head of the municipality's Survey Committees, said on 14 September that representatives would be sent to the slum dwellers to determine who is eligible for the apartments.

"There are over 1,000 sprawling communities in Cairo," said Manal Tibi, head of the Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights, an NGO that monitors government housing regulations.

"The allocation of residences has been fraught with difficulties because the government is always slow at relocating those who suffer and those forced to relocate," she said.

ADEW, which provides key services to slum dwellers such as processing legal documents and ID cards, has discovered a number of forged documents. "As we started collecting data from surviving locals, we kept finding names of people who were not registered earlier in the census records of 2007 for the area," said Marwa Abdel Hamid Ali, a programme officer at ADEW's office in Manshiet Nasser.

"To put a stop to the false claims of non-locals pretending to come from the affected area, ADEW staff began collecting details of the residents, so as to identify victims of the disaster from non-locals. The staff know the locals and this helps in the process of identification," she said.

The post-disaster survey will be compared with the latest census to identify those who deserve compensational housing from the government, said Ali.