The people of Alexandria in northern Egypt used to wake up every day to the collapse of a property or two until it became the bride of the Mediterranean, the second capital of Egypt, containing nearly half of Egypt’s collapsed real estate. The image of collapsed buildings and rubble in the governorate’s streets became dominant in many areas, amid daily funerals for victims who fell under these collapses. The people who live in areas where the houses are old live in a state of anxiety due to the danger of the buildings they live in collapsing on their heads at any time.
Consequently, they await their fate in these ramshackle properties, while some of them lose their lives after the roofs of their homes collapse on their heads. They did not choose their housing, but harsh conditions have forced them to live in dilapidated properties. The crisis is exacerbated in the winter season, with heavy rains threatening these buildings.
According to monitoring conducted by a “condition book” of all the buildings that fell between 2014-2016, more than half of Egypt’s collapses were in Alexandria alone. The uniqueness of the coastal city with this huge percentage of house collapses raises many questions about the tragedy and who is responsible for it. Due to the fact that Alexandria is a coastal city, it is exposed to vast amounts of rain and strong winds. Given the factor of the aging of entire neighbourhoods in the city, the repercussions of the coastal climate on the buildings multiply.
According to observers, this is the first reason that may justify these collapses, but there is another: Why don’t other coastal cities witness the same collapses? The second reason is that the real estate investment market in Alexandria is so profitable is that investors are accustomed to constructing many floors more than permitted. In contrast, contractors may commit to the necessary structural foundations for some buildings to ensure the building’s safety, but others ignore it.
On the other hand, the state has long turned a blind eye to building violations before starting to pay attention to them in the last two years due to the general economic situation. For years, the construction business sector drove economic activity, pulling thousands of unemployed people out of the wheel to spin them into the informal labour market. However, various official parties deny their responsibility when disaster strikes.
The statements issued by officials in the same positions, although their names differ with the different times of the disaster, are almost identical after each incident and are limited to that the governorate has already identified many properties that are likely to fall and restricted many other violations. These statements are being used as a prelude to a revolutionary process to end the phenomenon. However, with the following catastrophe, it becomes clear that it is a vicious cycle.
Even this massive appearance of state agencies after a distressed property incident does not last for long. It is always limited to recovering the bodies and removing rubble from the sides of the road. Another disaster that the governorate is witnessing is the displacement of the poor, whose homes have collapsed, without access to alternative housing, in the midst of frost and strong winds. The government, which does not monitor the construction process and does not intervene in sensing any danger threatening the population, does not provide any alternative housing for the displaced from their homes.
Said Al-Sayed, a citizen whose house collapsed before his eyes and who lost his wife during the collapse, said: “The credibility of neighbourhood officials in the Alexandria governorate was buried under the rubble. They stood idly in front of the series of collapses, without taking the necessary measures.” The professor of structural engineering at Alexandria University, Nasser Darwish, says the government and localities are responsible for the governorate’s real estate collapses. He adds that “the recurrence of scenes of neglect and corruption in collapsed real estate, whether new or old, clearly shows the size of the problem that the governorate suffers from in not implementing the law.” He stresses that “the preservation of life and human life must be a matter of concern for the government.”
Darwish criticises, “The state of inaction among officials and the failure to implement the law when it comes to old real estate, which indicates clear negligence and suspicion of corruption that affects localities.” He also points out that “the rampant corruption within the neighbourhoods, the absence of deterrent penalties, the failure to implement administrative evacuation decisions for homes that are in danger of collapse, and the failure to provide alternative housing, are all issues that require solutions to be sought before concerned Egyptian government agencies. He confirmed that the residents sign a declaration of their responsibility to stay in the house until it collapses because they cannot find any alternative place.
Darwish continues, “The collapse of the dilapidated property in Al-Attarin and the collapses that affected other properties in the governorate previously confirm the seriousness of the situation and break the law. Consequently, there must be real activation of the force of law to preserve the lives of those who live in these properties while allocating alternative real estate in the event of natural disasters or housing collapses and amending laws and regulatory legislation commensurate with the size of the problem and its serious implications.