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Go hom The Egyptian Center For Housing Rights
19-25 May 2001
Introductory Paper
To Habitat International Coalition Exchange Program
( Egypt)
On: Informal areas in Egypt


By Mohammad Ahmed al-Adawy A researcher at The National Center for Social and Criminal Research
Informal areas have become a major problem for governments, not only in Egypt, but also in several countries throughout the world. Even in countries, which have achieved high levels of development, there exists a wide gap between demand and supply of housing units. This is apparently evident from the rising cost of units and the increasing numbers of people living in shantytowns and informal areas on the periphery of big cities.

The housing crisis and the growth of informal areas can be attributed partly to the high level of urbanization on the world scale, especially in countries where growth rates are slower than the level of urbanization. For instance, city dwellers in the least industrialized countries rose from 966 million in 1980 to 1.9 billion in 2000, while urban population grew at 400 percent, from 386 million to 1.14 billion. Undoubtedly, high levels of urbanization led to the growth of informal areas and shantytowns as individuals preferred to migrate to big cities regardless of the housing conditions.
· The right to adequate housing:
  The right of man to adequate housing has been re-emphasized by the end of World War II. The US president, Roosevelt, reasserted the right to adequate housing as an integral part of human rights. A new approach, which held the State responsible for that, was elaborated.

  It was argued that under the free market system, poor strata of population would not afford the increasing cost of housing. The idea unleashed today's concerns about the fact that homelessness is a major threat to human and individuals' security. It has even become more dangerous than border threats of states, as the provision of adequate housing constitutes a basic pillar of people's security. A quick study of the decisions of Copenhagen Summit (6-12 March 1995) and the conferences of Habitat shows how inhuman are the conditions of shanty and informal towns as well as the poverty and unemployment of dwellers. What is more is the absence of any guarantees for economic, political, social, environmental, health, food, and personal security. Hence, the international concerns to pay more attention to the promotion of shanty and informal areas, and to secure the right of their dwellers to adequate housing. Various international conferences agreed on some basic conditions for adequate housing, as follows:
    1. Privacy
    2. Healthy environment.
    3. Guarantee of common humanitarian aspects.
The conditions of a proper house also includes:
    1. Easy access to services.
    2. Suitable & healthy location.
    3. Habitability.
    4. Proper and proportionate cost.
    5. Suitable cultural environment.
· Definition of informal areas:
  There is no specific definition for informal areas in Egypt. For this reason, opinions and statistics on informal areas in Egypt are very confusing. Some definitions highlight the shortage of services, environment, and the state of the houses. Others may focus on the judicial aspect, and the absence of planning, as those built on seized state property. A third may claim that informal areas are those built on the periphery of big cities, or even planned areas in which the conditions of housing deteriorated.

In sum, informal areas are those unplanned areas that emerge without license from competent housing authorities. The authorities, particularly in terms of the provision of the most basic services usually neglect these areas, which emerge regardless of the environmental conditions for proper housing.

Informal areas in Egypt include a wide range of housing patterns, such as the government's emergency shelter, old and neglected buildings, and slums and canvas huts built on state-owned property.
In spite of various disparities, there exist common specifications of informal housing, such as:

- lack of environmental and health requirements,
- no legal access to services and utilities (in most cases inhabitants have no access at all to services),
- no green or open air areas (when such areas exist, they are turned into places in which people dispose of waste and garbage),
- the spread of avoidable diseases,
- lack of clean water and sanitation,
- narrow and twisted streets, - the absence of planning, with every space is used for building new homes,
- overpopulation, in terms of the number of dwellers per room that amount to 2.8 person per room, and sometimes 4 persons per room.
· The problem of informal areas in Egypt:
I have pointed out that the absence of a specific definition for informal areas has led to differences in the classification of these areas and the determination of definite specifications for them. This in turn led to another problem relating to the size of informal areas in Egypt and their population. Some statistics assert that the number of informal areas in Egypt is about 900 areas, with a population of 6.0 million people. Other sources insist that the number of these areas amounts to 1,186 areas. However, the most widespread and documented account specifies this number at 1,034 areas, with a total population of 20 million, or 20% of Egypt's population. According to this account, dwellers of informal areas amount to 37% of Egypt's urban population. Cairo has the largest number of informal areas, as it has 79 areas compared to 60 in Qalyubeyya, 49 in Assiut, 46 in Beni Swif, and 40 areas in Alexandria. (table 1).

However, housing conditions in these areas are very different. The government plans to remove 81 of them for security and other reasons. Paradoxically, the average rise in informal areas is much more higher than the increase in formal areas. From 1970 to 1994 the share of habitation in informal areas amounted to 80% of the total new housing in Egypt. Moreover, the growth rate of these areas stumbles between 3.5% to 11.4% per year.
Tomb housing constantly increases, as dwellers of graveyards in Cairo rose from 80 thousands in 1960 to 97 thousands in 1966, while in 1985 it mounted to 500 thousands. The number of families living in such housing has been estimated at 750 thousands - i.e. 3.5 million people. Furthermore, there are other forms of housing, such as living in mosques, tourist areas, slums and canvas huts, and boats. The number of such forms of housing mounted to about 61.732 thousands in 1986, while graveyards inhabitants has been estimated at 12 thousand people.

· Why Informal Housing grows:
It would be difficult to speak of a specific date for the emergence of informal housing in any country. Informal housing seems like a plague, which spreads in slow motion until it turns into a de facto phenomenon. Sometimes, even organized and planned areas may turn into informal housing as a result of deterioration and neglect. However, we may point to some general indicators. In ancient Egypt and the middle ages, informal areas provided shelter for the outlawed, where they can escape from state control. The first informal area in modern Egypt, Ezbet al-Sa'ayda, emerged in 1924. During the 1940s another area developed in Alexandria, as a result of migration to Cairo from upper Egypt. In the 1960s the proportion of informal housing to the newly-built housing units stood at 50%. In the 1970s it rose to 80%, while 60% of the units built during the 1980s were informal. With accelerated urbanization, informal housing in Cairo exploded at an unprecedented level, and pressures on the infrastructure increased.

There are some factors which led to the growth of informal areas in Egypt, including:
1. the natural rise of population,
2. the acceleration of urbanization in Egypt, in a way disproportionate to the level of economic and social development, (urban populations represent 45% of the total populations in Egypt),
3. the gap between demand and supply in the housing market,
4. rural migration as a result of the inability of the countryside to provide adequate job opportunities for its population. Also unbalanced distribution of development projects and returns led to the rise of rural migration for more favorable conditions,
5. the absence of local planning and control on newly-built units,
6. the absence of specific planning for new housing areas,
7. the rising cost of housing in Egypt,
8. the confusion of housing laws, which led to foul-playing that rendered them useless and ineffective, and
9. official corruption in local bodies,
· The State's Policy towards Informal Areas:
We may claim that terrorist activity and the concentration of many terrorists in the informal areas has led to a fundamental shift in the State's policy towards these areas. Hence the increased focus on the development of informal areas in Egypt, as a major project directly supervised by the country's politicians. The state's policy towards informal areas can be best described as follows:
1. Neglect: The state used to neglect the problem of informal areas, and the corruption of some officials led to a considerable rise in such areas.
2. Elimination: As the state fails to provide people with adequate housing units they tend to remove informal areas without alternative solutions for dwellers.
3. Government-sponsored projects: The government began to undertake housing projects - the so-called popular housing of the late 1960s. However, the new government projects are considerably costly for the great majority of Egypt's population today.
4. The state's provision of land and basic services for people to build new units with donations from the affluent people.
In Egypt, the state's policies to overcome the problem include:
1. To construct low-cost housing units to absorb inhabitants from the informal areas.
2. To urge international agencies - such as the UNICEF, the USAID, Plan International, and the Dutch Construction Bank, etc. - to contribute for the promotion of certain areas, as was the case of Helwan and Al-Nahda.
3. To encourage businessmen to finance new housing projects, with the state granting land and other facilities free of charge, as was the case in Zinhum.
4. In 1993, the ministry of local development declared its national program for the promotion of informal areas. The program would be carried out on three stages. The first stage covers areas in upper Egypt with a total budget of $4 to $7 billion. By 1996, however, the funds allocated to this program amounted only to $1.2 billion, and the pace of performance is still very slow.
Nevertheless, the state's policy towards informal areas is extremely perplexed in view of the absence of a comprehensive program and reliable data base for action, in addition to the contradictory policies of the various government ministries dealing with the problem.

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تصميم : جمال عيد