Slum life in egypt

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Skyscrapers and slums in Cairo


Hossam Soltan

Feb 2014

Advisor professor: Choi Changyong


This paper is focused on slums and slum dwellers’ life conditions in Egypt. Slums are the poor areas where poor and vulnerable people are living in these places. They do not have access to fundamental needs such as proper housing, health, sanitation, security and job opportunities, and they are isolated from social interaction with people who are living in urban and rich places. Growth of population specially in developing countries and immigration from rural and poor area to cities are the main reasons behind creating slums. Slums are a serious problem not just in developing countries but also in developed countries. So government must take action and consider good policy options to prevent creating new slums and have appropriate upgrading programs for improvement life condition of slum dwellers. Preventing creation new slums through develop rural areas in central and upper Egypt, dealing with the current slums through two strategies: providing land in Sinai and upgrading the current slums situation are policy options which are proposed in this paper.

This paper uses a quantitative method. This is an explanatory paper. There are some successful cases regarding slums improvement which are evidences and match with the policies that are proposed in this research. It also uses professional experience and lessons learned from observation the slums and interacting with slum dwellers in Egypt.

Slum has many definitions depend on different views; “UN-HABITAT defines a slum household as a group of individuals living under the same roof in an urban area who lack one or more of the following:

  1. Durable housing of a permanent nature that protects against extreme climate conditions.

  2. Sufficient living space which means not more than three people sharing the same room.

  3. Easy access to safe water in sufficient amounts at an affordable price.

  4. Access to adequate sanitation in the form of a private or public toilet shared by a reasonable number of people.

  5. Security of tenure that prevents forced evictions.” 1

From the prospective of the Egyptian law, slums are the illegal buildings. It is the buildings which do not have permits from the government to be built. From the view of sociology, slums refer to those urban areas which do not have the basis human needs and utilities.

The problem of slums is one of the most severe problems confront any society. The number of slums in Egypt was estimated by 1171 areas with dwellers of 15 millions people according to the last estimation in 2007. That means more than 20% of the total population of Egypt lives in slums. Only the Greater Cairo has 6.1 millions dwellers in slums, thus it has 41.4% of total slums’ dwellers in Egypt. 2


Slums in Egypt take different forms from huts until edifices. Huts are the worst form of slums because it is built from trees, tinplates, cartons, sheets, rags or mud. Hut causes many difficulties for its dwellers, because it does not prevent them from raining, winds or cold weather. Huts are located on the streets or they take aggregations in popular places. Dwellers of huts do not have electricity, water and restrooms. For water, they fill big pots from the closest mosque, church or any other public or private buildings and store waters for weeks. They use restrooms of the closest neighbors who live in buildings and have restrooms.

In second form, some slums’ families share together two rooms. In a few cases the government gives people who do not have places to live one small apartment for two families. Those two families share two rooms and one kitchen together and there is no restroom in their apartment; the building has only a one restroom in the first floor and all dwellers of five or six floors building share one restroom. These apartments are very crowded; family consists from 6 or 8 members live together in a small room. The high densities of people in a small room create many healthy and psychological problems for the dwellers. The sun does not get in the room nether ventilation, which increase the probability of spreading the diseases between them.


An Egyptian woman prepares a meal next to a mausoleum. She has lived in this room in Cairo's City of the Dead for 40 years.
he third form of slums is called the city of dead, where people live in graveyards. In this city, each grave consists of a tomb in the center of a big room. People live in that big room where the tomb in located. The city of dead is located in Cairo, and it is the biggest combination of tombs in the world. So many people who could not get apartments or rooms in urban areas have moved to the city of dead. Now the city of dead became full of people, and it has shops, schools, bakeries, coffee shops and all kinds of shops people need. Although this is the place of dead and graveyards, the renting of those graveyards to live is not cheap poor people, but comparing with the renting inside the Cairo city, it is cheaper. The graveyards of Imam al-Shafi'i in Cairo represents one the clearest examples about the slums in the graveyards in Egypt.

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