Egypt: New report castigates government over rockslide deaths

“Egypt’s poor should not have to live … with the threat of being buried alive” - Malcolm Smart

The Egyptian authorities must take immediate steps to protect Cairo’s poorest inhabitants living in designated “unsafe areas” where they are at risk from rockslides and other dangers, Amnesty International said in a new report released today (17 November).

Amnesty‘s 45-page report, Buried Alive: Trapped By Poverty And Neglect In Cairo’s Informal Settlements, castigates the Egyptian authorities for a failure to protect residents of Al-Duwayqa, hit by a fatal rockslide in September 2008.

The authorities claim 107 people were killed and 58 injured in the 2008 rockslide, but survivors say casualty numbers were higher and many family members are reportedly still missing. An official investigation into the disaster has yet to produce any findings and Amnesty is calling on the Egyptian authorities to properly investigate why Al-Duwayqa was not averted and to take steps to ensure that there is no repeat of the tragedy.

Meanwhile, the report calls on the Egyptian authorities to alleviate threats to lives and to protect residents’ rights to health and adequate housing in 26 so-called “unsafe areas” in Greater Cairo. At Al-Duwayqa, even though the risk of rockslide was well known, the Egyptian authorities failed to evacuate impoverished residents before it was too late.

Al-Duwayqa is just part of the giant Manshiyet Nasser informal settlement on the slopes of a hill in east Cairo. The settlement, one of Egypt’s largest, houses about one million people, mostly artisans, vendors, construction workers, rubbish collectors and daily wage labourers. Manshiyet Nasser is predominantly government-owned desert land where the local authorities can order evictions administratively.

Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director Malcolm Smart said:

“The tragedy in Al-Duwayqa was a disaster waiting to happen. More could - more should - have been done to avert it and to prevent the loss of life.

“The Egyptian authorities owe it to both the victims and those who survived that awful morning, just as they owe it others at risk, to ensure that there is no repetition and that the tragedy of Al-Duwayqa is not played out again in any of Cairo’s other ‘unsafe areas’.

“Egypt’s poor should not have to live any longer with the threat of being buried alive.”

In Greater Cairo 26 areas have been identified as “unsafe” by a government plan to develop the city by 2050, but there has been little or no consultation with affected communities. As a consequence, says Amnesty, residents of “unsafe areas” face a double threat - a lack of safety and the ever-present possibility of forced eviction.

After the rockslide last year the Egyptian authorities identified other nearby danger areas and demolished more than 1,000 threatened homes and re-housed more than 1,750 families. However, these people were not given legal tenure and are now liable to future eviction. Other families were left homeless and the allocation of housing also discriminated against divorced Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights or Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights living apart from their husbands.

Meanwhile, some families were forcibly evicted from Al-Duwayqa and others from Establ Antar, an informal settlement in south Cairo. These evictions were mostly carried out in breach of protections under international human rights law, often with little warning and backed up by the presence of security forces. Families from Establ Antar were relocated to a remote area in 6 October City, west of Giza, far from their places of work, and were given no legal security of tenure.

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