by David Sims, with
Monika El-Shorbagi and Marion Séjoumé
Most Cairo slums resulted from explosive post-World War II population
growth. But it wasn’t until the mid 1960s that slums really
started to appear, with little official resistance to informal and
clearly illegal subdivision and construction on the agricultural
lands at the urban fringes. Almost without exception, the slums
started off from existingsatellite villages because rural housing
was unregulated, and uncontrolled development could thus be ‘overlooked’.
During the 1967 to 1973 period of military conflict,
all formal development in Cairo froze as the war effort soaked up
most of the financial resources available. Demographic growth, however,
continued unabated, including evacuees from the Canal Zone, and
informal settlement growth boomed. Substantial urban fringe areas,
already largely subdivided, were sold during this period, expanding
the urban limits. This was further compounded by expansion from
the satellite villages.
The 1974 to 1985 oil boom in the Gulf States and the
subsequent remittances of Egyptian workers there provided investments
for the population groups attracted by Cairo’s urban informal
areas and caused further massive informal
housing activity at the urban fringes.
During the period of 1986 to 2000, the process consolidated
with a reduction in new land for residential purposes due to:
drying-up of foreign remittances;
falls in population growth rates; and
control over agricultural-to-residential land conversion.
Only recently, the Egyptian government has formally
recognized the existence of ‘deteriorated and underserved
urban residential areas’ and applies the term aashiwa’i
(random), indicating their unplanned and illegal nature.
The main slum types in Cairo are as follows:
settlements on private, former agricultural lands. These consist
of private residences built on land purchased informally from farmers
at the urban
fringes on informally subdivided plots and without building permits.
Housing is generally of a good, permanent type, often incremental
and at places even high rise (10 to 14 storeys). Although initially
ignored by the government, it has now become a criminal act to utilize
scarce agricultural lands for residential purposes.
settlements on desert state lands. These consist of private residences
built informally on stateowned, vacant desert land. Strictly speaking,
this is land invasion and land squatting and construction without
permits; but semi-legality emerged on the basis of customary rights
and nominal land rents paid. Government policy is to grant post-facto
legalization. Housing quality and crowding conditions tend to be
worse that in informal settlements on private, former agricultural
sections of the old city core. These comprise pre-1860 sections
of medieval Cairo, with a mixture of dilapidated and sound buildings,
with the former buildings often being the result of ownership disputes
and lack of maintenance resulting from tight rent controls and non-profitability
of rental. Residents are generally very poor; but the population
in these areas is declining as a result of increasing conversion
of residential into commercial spaces and the collapse of entire
buildings due to lack of maintenance.
urban pockets. Various inner-city areas of Cairo, notably those
from the early 20th century, have pockets of dilapidated one- to
three-storey structures that house poor families. These are characterized
by insecure tenure and limited housing investment. They generally
attract poor families seeking the cheapest possible housing solutions.
Numerically, this group is very insignificant.
City-wide, the tenure types in slums can roughly be
divided into 50 per cent owners and 50 per cent renter. No figures
are available on current slum dynamics.
In Cairo, urban poverty is not notably concentrated
in particular geographic areas. Poor and ultra poor families are
found mixed in with lower- and middle-income families in a wide
number of older core neighbourhoods and in the vast informal areas
of Greater Cairo. In most informal areas, there is a small percentage
of well-off entrepreneurs and professionals. This spatial income
heterogeneity is due to such historical factors as lack of residential
mobility, rent control and imperfect real estate markets.
A ‘Master Plan of Cairo’ was published
in 1956 that led, in 1958, to the Nasr City scheme, an ambitious
desert fringe development organized through a public-sector concession
company affiliated with the Ministry of Housing. A public housing
programme was launched, and by 1965 the Cairo Governorate had constructed
almost 15,000 units for low-income families. It was only during
the period of 1974 to 1985 that the government started to address
the booming informal areas by preserving state and agricultural
lands from encroachments. The Egyptian government had only then
officially recognized how vast the informal areas were, and that
there were deteriorated or underserved urban residential areas,
and launched its new towns policy. Starting in 1992, after some
poorer urban areas were perceived as breeding grounds for political
instability, the government finally launched a programme to improve
aashwa’i areas throughout Egypt.
Despite some successes in slowing down the further
encroachment of Cairo on its urban fringes, informal building is
still going on. In spite of the massive investments required and
the rather limited success in attracting population to date, the
policy of creating modern planned desert settlements remains the
Government’s ultimate solution to the phenomenon of urban
informality, the idea
being to offer alternatives which will absorb the millions who are
in or would otherwise go to informal areas of Greater Cairo. Recent
comparisons of satellite pictures indicate that informal encroachment
on agricultural lands continues at a rate triple that of ‘formal’
has been extracted from:
UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge
of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies',