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200 families left homeless by flooding

AI-Index: MDE 12/033/2010

On 23 October 2010, flooding in Ezbet Abu Rgela informal settlement, in north east Cairo, from a sewage canal left the makeshift homes of 200 families destroyed or uninhabitable. The families urgently require alternative housing.

The flooding was triggered after a resident of Ezbet Abu Rgela died reportedly from an unsafe electrical wire touching the canal water. The police were informed and the Al-Salam Neighbourhood Authority sent a bulldozer to recover the body. The bulldozer reportedly hit the side of the canal causing a gap through which sewage water could escape. Residents say the authorities reinforced the gap and sent cars to pump the water. The residents tried to support the banks of the canal with sand and makeshift materials but water had already reached a couple of meters high in some homes and others were already uninhabitable due to fractured walls. Seven homes fell altogether.

In total the homes of 200 families were destroyed or left uninhabitable. Those living below the level of the canal were most affected. The families are now sleeping in alleys near their wrecked homes to protect the remainder of their damaged possessions. There is no light at night, and they make fires to protect themselves from stray animals and other dangers. The local authorities have provided neither temporary shelter nor alterative housing to the residents.

The Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights has filed a complaint with the public prosecutor against the Cairo Governorate on behalf of 55 families so that they are provided with emergency relief and shelter. A local mosque has offered temporary shelter, food and blankets to some of the families. Others are staying with nearby acquaintances

On 10 October 2010, the Cairo Governorate reportedly announced that it is in the process of allocating flats in 6 October City, south east of Giza, to residents of “unsafe areas” in Cairo, including Ezbet Abu Rgela. Residents however were not consulted over these prospective plans, whether of upgrading or clearance of the areas.

Additional Information

As Ezbet Abu Rgela stretches along a narrow strip of an open sewage canal, residents live in constant fear of flooding, especially when it rains in winter. It is estimated that 5,000 families live in Ezbet Abu Rgela in Al-Salam neighbourhood, near Cairo Airport. Residents are generally poor and rent their homes for 100-250 Egyptian Pounds a month ($US26-43). Most residents work as daily wage labourers or waste recyclers. The informal settlement has grown since the 1970s as people occupied land mainly owned by the army. In the past, the residents have complained of the lack of basic infrastructure such as water, sanitation and electricity and women felt unsafe in the streets, Children have also reportedly drowned in the open sewage drainage canal and residents live in danger of fire, electrical shocks due to unsafe wiring as well as the danger of the unfenced Cairo-Suez train railway which crosses Ezbet Abu Rgela.
The Informal Settlement Development Facility (ISDF), a fund established by the President in 2008, designated Ezbet Abu Rgela as one of Cairo’s 53 “unsafe areas” for its residents. The ISDF coordinates government efforts and plans in dealing with informal settlements and gives priority to “unsafe areas”. Amnesty International however fears that such plans are not developed in consultation with the local communities, which leaves them at risk of forced eviction. The organization has criticized plans for the clearance of 33 “shack areas” in Greater Cairo, as well as in Aswan, most of which are built on land owned by the state. Forced evictions are generally carried out by local authorities with the help of the police. Amnesty International has documented forced eviction in Cairo’s informal settlements of Manshiyet Nasser, Establ Antar and Ezbet Khayrallah, where the largest “unsafe areas” in Cairo are located.
In the middle of June 2008, military police sought to forcibly evict residents of Ezbet Abu Rgela and demolish their homes to extend a neighbouring garden. As the residents resisted, the military police told them they had two weeks to clear the land or they will be evicted by force on 30 June 2008. Members from the Egyptian Center for Housing Rights and 6 April Youth movement went that day to stand by the residents and organized a media campaign. The eviction was eventually not carried out but the residents remained living in their poor housing conditions.

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