CAIRO: Over a year after a massive rockslide killed an estimated 107 people, Cairenes living in unsafe slum areas remain at risk from rockslides and other dangers, Amnesty International said in a report issued yesterday.
“Thousands of Egypt’s poor are trapped by poverty and neglect that could ultimately end in their deaths, Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, said in a press statement issued yesterday.
“The government must urgently address the risks faced by those living in areas designated as ‘unsafe’ and find solutions by consulting with those directly affected.
The 55-page report, “Buried Alive: Trapped by Poverty and Neglect in Cairo’s Informal Settlements is highly critical of the failure of the Egyptian authorities to take effective steps to protect residents of Duweiqa whose existence was shattered when boulders weighing 18,000 tons crushed their homes on the morning of Sept. 6 2009.
The NGO is also critical of the government’s response to the disaster and their treatment of those affected by it, which it says was not in conformity with international human rights standards.
Amnesty also calls on the government to address threats to lives in 26 unsafe areas in Greater Cairo, and to protect residents’ right to health and adequate housing.
The report is based on two fact-finding missions conducted by the London-based NGO in February and August 2009 during which it spoke to evictees from, and current residents of, the Manshiyet Nasser area where the Duweiqa rockslide happened.
An estimated 1 million people squat on state-owned land in the area, which was first inhabited by rural migrants in the 1960s.
Despite repeated warnings about the risk of rockslides from both residents and a local contractor hired to secure rocks on the Muqattam Hill, Amnesty says that the government took “only limited steps to deal with the situation.
“The tragedy in Duweiqa was a disaster waiting to happen. And that was well known, Smart said. “More could – more should – have been done to avert it and to prevent the loss of life.
“Shock and confusion prevailed in the aftermath to the rockslide. Many found it difficult to prove that they had been evicted. Evidence that some people had forged documents showing that they had been evicted prompted the authorities to doubt or refuse most applications.
There were also reported incidents of corruption in the assigning of apartments.
Amnesty says that the positive step of allowing survivors to live in the Suzanne Mubarak apartments for free has been marred by the failure of the authorities to provide them with documents guaranteeing security of tenure. As a result, they live with a constant fear of eviction.
Evictions carried out in areas deemed unsafe following the rockslide failed to respect international human rights law standards, Amnesty says.
Evictees were not consulted on resettlement options nor offered adequate alternative housing and relocation sites in terms of security of tenure, location and availability of infrastructure. In addition they were not awarded compensation for their losses and eviction notices were not put in writing, undermining the affected population’s ability to appeal the decision.
Amnesty cites the case of 61-year-old Mustafa Mohamed Al-Leithy, a father of six, who built a family house above a metal processing workshop in Ezbet Bekheit with the money he had earned working in Iraq in the 1980s.
The workshop employed 12 workers and his sons, all of whom lost their jobs when the workshop and house above it were demolished.
The demolition happened without warning, security forces surrounding the area and forcing all the occupants out. Residents were not given time to salvage personal belongings before the bulldozers moved in. He has not to date received any compensation.
Slum dwellers describe a life characterized by deprivation, neglect, insecurity and the constant threat of forcible eviction, Smart is quoted as saying in the Amnesty’s press statement. The state must guarantee their right to adequate housing and put an end to forced evictions.
A total of 140 families remain at risk of a rockslide in the Al-Herafyyin area of Duweiqa the report says.
Sabrin Hamed Abul ‘Elah, who has lived in a shack in the area for 10 years, told Amnesty that she “lives in fear and added that nobody in the Haret Ahmed Nader area where she lives believes they will be relocated to the Suzanne Mubarak dwellings before rocks come crashing down on them.
Amnesty also question how informal settlements will be addressed by the Ministry of Housing’s master plan for the Greater Cairo region.
The plan aims to move Egypt among the top 30 developed countries in the world by 2050. Under the plan all of Manshiyet Nasser would be converted to gardens and tourist accommodation.
“As no consultations seem to have taken place with the affected communities, let alone active participation, some human rights organizations have expressed their fear that such plans will lead to forced evictions, Amnesty says.
“The residents of ‘unsafe areas’ are therefore living with a double threat: lack of safety and possible forced eviction.
Amnesty says that attempts to reach ministerial officials and the governor of Cairo for comment on the matter were ignored.
Questioned on BBC Arabic radio yesterday about the report, Hassan Nashat El-Kafas, a member of the People’s Assembly’s housing committee, said that the government had provided homes for victims of the Duweiqa disaster, but said that victims themselves refused to take them “because they wanted two or three apartments.
“The Egyptian citizen is downtrodden but he doesn’t cooperate with the government, El-Kafas added.