Saving Egyptians from the plague of unplanned construction

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Thu, 11 Feb 2021 - 06:10 GMT

A photo shows a leaning building in Alexandria before it was demolished in February

A photo shows a leaning building in Alexandria before it was demolished in February

CAIRO – 11 February 2021: Almost half of Egypt’s constructed buildings in cities and villages is declared by the state as “unplanned”, with thousands of buildings being built without licenses. Of these thousands, a large number of buildings do not comply with safety regulations or can even threaten the safety of aviation for being illegally too tall.

Citizens were shocked over the past few days as they were overwhelmed with reports about a 13-storey building near Giza’s Faisal district that had been caught on fire for around 10 days before the state decided to demolish it.

The Giza building was unlicensed and the cause of the fire started in an illegal shoe store at the basement. The large quantity of leather and shoes stored in this store and the lack of windows made the firefighting process almost impossible and deadly. The civil protections units were forced to just let the fire burn itself out.

Another tall building in Alexandria was evacuated and demolished after people in the streets were shocked when they saw the building leaning. The building was also unlicensed.

Authorities have dealt with the two horrible incidents under the watchful eye of the president, who, shortly after the incidents, phoned MBC Masr’s Al-Hekaya program to speak to people.

“The situation in terms of this [Alexandria] building and the Faisal building is an embodiment of the reality we are in," President Abdel Fattah El Sisi told people, blaming such incidents on administrative and organizational corruption. “We say to people that we have a very big problem … This problem includes the yearslong absence of the state. This absence is translated into uncontrolled acts”.

In numbers, the president said the cost of replacing slums nationwide can be of a cost that surpasses LE 3 to LE 4 trillion. He added that he saw 12-storey buildings while inspecting a district in Cairo with too narrow streets that would not even allow ambulance and fire engines to cross in case of an emergency.

Sisi reiterated the state’s ability of providing housing units in good and organized areas to the youth, where they can find all decent services provided.

‘Surgeries’ for unplanned areas

In the incidents of Alexandria and Giza buildings, as well as others that have witnessed a similar fate over the past years, the residents and citizens have been the number one victim.

The state will intervene in the issue of the unplanned construction to improve people’s lives, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said, while addressing a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Buildings in unplanned areas would not be demolished, Madbouli said, adding that these areas would undergo “surgeries” instead through opening new streets that facilitate the movement of citizens and providing a suitable housing environment.

The demolition of these areas that are overpopulated with millions of residents is so difficult and costly, Madbouli said, adding that the cost of intervening in these new areas is even more expensive than building new areas.

This explains the state’s current keenness to expand the construction of new cities, as per presidential directives, to provide secure and planned housing units in civilized societies with full services provided and to ban random, illegal construction and encroachment on agricultural plots in villages, Madbouli added.

Reconcile if safe, permissible

To date, the governorates have received more than 2.7 million requests to reconcile with the state on building violations, Minister of Local Development Mahmoud Shaarawi said, noting that the state would continue to receive requests until the end of March.

An initiative to allow reconciliation with the state in building violations in exchange for a fine was launched and approved by the president, especially last year, in an effort to legalize these buildings and end further unplanned construction.

Madbouli stressed that legalizing the illegally constructed buildings would help citizens maintain the prices of their appartements in case they want to sell them and would also protect them from being extorted by local officials and employees.

The reconciliation initiative does not include the buildings that are unsafe, such as the Giza and the Alexandria ones and an extremely tall building in Cairo’s Ain Shams. Buildings that the civil aviation authority recognizes as extremely tall and those constructed on archaeological lands also cannot reconcile with the state.

Most importantly, only the buildings constructed before July 2017 can submit reconciliation requests. This is apparently the state’s thin line between curbing building violations and accidentally encouraging them in the future.

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