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The slum-dwellers of Egypt hoping for a better life

With 11 million people, Cairo is currently the largest urban area on the continent of Africa. Many of its poorest citizens dwell in overcrowded conditions, often in streets where the power goes down regularly and water quality is low.

And in slum areas on the extreme outskirts of the capital, facilities can be lacking entirely. Now a new campaign hopes to provide proper homes with access to clean drinking water and sewage systems for half a million slum-dwellers. Initiated by Niazi Salam, an Egyptian businessman, the One Billion Pound campaign has so far raised 17 million dollars. This first tenth of the hoped-for sum will be targeted at five governorates of Cairo, which account for nearly half Egypt’s slums.

In a separate project, the Egyptian army has said it will build 6,000 new housing units for residents of slums like Manshiet Nasser. Perched on sandstone cliffs outside of Cairo, this area was brought to the media’s attention in 2008, when a rockslide killed dozens of residents.

IRIN’s reporter spoke to one mother who lives in the Manshiet Nasser slum with her six children. Having just one room, Madiha Abdel-Salam often has to stay overnight with neighbours. When one of her children rises in the morning, the 42-year old mother then occupies the free bed to have a two-hour sleep before going to work. Madiha admitted that she “lose[s] hope of living like other humans”. Recently, a senior figure at Amnesty International visited the Manshiet Nasser slum and urged the authorities to address the needs of “those struggling to live in dignity and provide for their families” even at this difficult time when the country is in transition.

However, the task for the Egyptian authorities is a huge one, especially since other slums have grown up outside cities in other parts of the country. The National Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, a research division of the government, estimates there are well over 400 slums across the Egypt. Accurate figures for how many Egyptians live in slum areas are hard to come by, since many poor residents lack official papers or fail to register their children. But Amnesty believes the number of slum residents could be as high as 12 million in the country as a whole. So although the new housing initiatives offer hope to some of the poorest families, there are many millions more waiting for the chance of a better life.

Laurinda Luffman signature