-Cairo - September 2008
-Taken from the Scotsman
AT LEAST 31 people have died and hundreds more are missing after a massive rockslide hit one of Cairo's poorest neighbourhoods on Saturday.
Duwayqa, a shanty town to the east of the Egyptian capital, was hit by eight boulders weighing up to 70 tonnes each.
Local residents have clashed with troops at the scene, accusing the authorities of ignoring numerous warnings that a landslide might be imminent, and claiming that the rescue operation to save those trapped under the rubble has been slow and inefficient.
Witnesses described desperate relatives scrabbling at the rocks with their bare hands to free those buried. Emergency services were hampered by delays in getting cranes and heavy lifting equipment to the site, and rescue workers observing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan are working in hot, dusty conditions without food or water.
Duwayqa is a densely populated slum area in the shadows of the limestone Moqattam Hills, which have long been identified by experts as vulnerable to erosion from running sewage waste and badly planned construction projects.
Local media reports suggest that a contractor was doing building work on the plateau above Duwayqa when the rocks were dislodged, crushing the shanties below.
Government officials have ordered a full evacuation of the area.
It has emerged that residents told the authorities more than a year ago that large cracks had formed in the mountainside. A new housing project intended for some of the slum-dwellers was inaugurated by Suzanne Mubarak, the Egyptian first lady, in 2003.
Yet despite this apparent acknowledgement by the government that Duwayqa and surrounding shanties were at risk, the transfer of residents to the new houses had still not taken place when tragedy struck. Critics of the government blame corruption for the delay.
Ahmed Salah, a pro-democracy activist, said: "Everyone expected this collapse, and it was a matter of when it would occur, not if. Alternative houses were constructed at the Suzanne Mubarak project but, because of corruption, the people they were built for did not get to move in.
"The authorities want to make more money instead by selling the units on privately."
Egyptian media reported that some people refused to move because the new houses were too far away. Some residents said that they did not believe the houses existed or thought they had to pay a bribe to get one.
Nimah Abdel Tawab, an elderly woman, asked: "We only saw these homes on television. Where are they?"
Mohamed Hassan, another resident, said: "The people with money took these homes. Everything in our country is for money."
Egypt has been criticised for unsafe construction practices, which contribute to the problem of collapsing homes. According to a 2002 report, nearly 60 per cent of Cairo's residents live in under-serviced, illegal dwellings and a quarter of all habitations are in imminent danger of caving in.
Described by a United Nations habitat survey as "the largest squatter, informal area in Cairo", Manshiyet Nasr, the urban district which includes Duwayqa – is particularly exposed to this problem.
It has more than 400 residents per acre, and according to the report,suffers from "poor living qualities, inadequate services, lack of infrastructure, and deteriorated environmental conditions".
THIS disaster is the latest in a string of scandals that has provoked widespread anger and scorn at the government of 80-year-old president Hosni Mubarak, one of the Arab world's longest-serving rulers and a key Washington ally.
In 2006, the sinking of a ferry in the Red Sea led to the deaths of more than 1,000 Egyptians, but despite evidence that there had been "serious defects" in the vessel, the ferry's owner – who was a prominent politician and high-ranking member of the ruling NDP party – was this summer acquitted of any responsibility, causing outrage in court.
Earlier this year, a bus crashed into the Nile, killing 19 people, and an accident at a train crossing left a further 40 Egyptians dead.