Media roundup on the city: April 2014

Boosting territorial development
Who are housing plan designed for?
Water and Agriculture
Energy
Mobility
What will happen to the NDP headquarters?

Boosting territorial development

Early in april, the Cityscape real estate exhibition has been the framework of conferences and official declarations addressed to the real estate sector, with the objective of giving positive signals to investors (to which they seem receptive).

The dispute opposing SODIC to the Egyptian government has been settled. After wining a court case against the government over the Eastown project in New Cairo, the developer accepted a revaluation of the land bought from the state and agreed to pay the difference.

The agreement was mentioned by minister of housing Mostafa Madbouly, when announcing that the ministry is working to settle all cases opposing investors to the state. The minister also announced his intention to boost national development plans, including strategic plan “Egypt 2051” and new cities. In the new cities of Upper Egypt, the ministries of Housing and Supply cooperate to create markets and trade complexes.

Egypt’s cabinet also approved the draft investment law that prevents third parties from challenging contracts made between the government and an investor.

In the capital city, the Greater Cairo Strategic Development Plan has drawn attention of urban policies observers. The plan evolved from the highly contested Cairo 2050 plan, and the details about the new version are still to come. The GOPP and UN-Habitat commissioned a private firm to undertake a Socioeconomic Impact Assessment. Tadamun attended various public meetings organized in neighborhoods concerned by the plan. The NGO acknowledge the move toward participatory planning, but stresses many shortcomings. Shadow Ministry of Housing comments on the same topic.

In an article published by The Guardian, Mohamed Elshahed (Cairo Observer) comments the deal signed between Emaar Group and the defense ministry for the further development of Uptown Cairo. The privatization of the city that he describes seems far from the democratic ambitions displayed in the strategic plan.

Who are housing plan designed for?

Elshahed also evokes the 1 million units social housing plan announced in March. Behind what is apparently a public policy program, he denounces how a handful of economical and political actors is shaping the city. Whereas Arabtec has appointed a large UAE-based company to masterplan the $40bn project, the lack of informations about the program lead some commentators to estimate what it might look like. Dividing the $40bn budget by the 1 million unit suggests that units could go for $40 000 (280 000EGP), when units in social housing programs usually cost around $14 000 (before subsidies). The price range intends more probably the program for the middle class.

These elements confirm the analysis by Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (here in English), showing how current housing policies exclude the poor. Despite the massive programs announced in the past years, public programs cover only 15% of housing needs in the country. Therefore, some consider that “the government should not be involved in providing housing, as individual are always able to build cheaper” (K. Ibrahim, Tadamun), whereas public investment should focus on infrastructures. But the idea of building up infrastructure, especially in informal neighborhoods, has never really caught on in Egypt, David Sims says to Mada Masr.

The status of these neighborhoods violently came back on stage during the past weeks, with the destruction of illegal buildings in Dar al-Salam that have killed at least one child. Some families had invested life savings in flats now destroyed; informal property developers wear a heavy responsibility in human and material losses. The example of the area near the constitutional court shows how complex it can be to establish the property or the right of use of a given piece of land.

Other destruction took place in Sadat City and Manshiyet Nasser. For the latter, the official justification was the risk of a new landslide.

Water and Agriculture

Scarcity of arable land is a frequent justification in the struggle against informal building. AhramOnline publishes an opinion column on the topic, with its author advocating for a more coherent control of constructions on arable land, both old land of the Nile Valley and new land reclaimed on the desert. The proposed solution is, once again, the development of desert areas.

Developments of Toshka and the New Valley are emblematic of a confidence in technical solutions that would secure Egypt’s future. Plans to lease around 25 000ha to Arab investors are understood as the awakening of such mega-projects. But they are far from successful: low return on investment, highly mechanized exploitations that create few jobs, and the risk of losing part of the old agricultural land of the Delta. If the irrigation of new land reduces the Nile flow to a certain point, infiltration of seawater could lead to the salinization of the Delta.

While the construction work on the Renaissance Dam goes on, Ethiopia expects Egypt to stop threatening it, in order to further discuss shared use of the river. When politicians seek to preserve water resources, some farmers experiment ways of optimizing its use, and develop aquaponic and hydroponic farms.

In order to address water quality, treatment is also at stake. Cairo from Below assesses rural sanitation in Egypt. On April 14th, a workshop on the same topic took place, gathering water and sanitation stakeholders.

 

Bonus: a photo reportage, “disputed waters”, following the Nile from Kenya to Egypt

Energy

Coal import is still in the forefront of energy debates (and reaches international press). Despite opposition of the ministries of environment and tourism, the cabinet approved the use of coal for energy generation. The tourism industry is worried about the negative environmental impact, and the coordinator of Egyptians against coal, hosted by Bassem Youssef in his show, explained that coal cannot solve the current energy crisis, and that the adjustments to infrastructures will make Egypt dependent for decades. Former petroleum ministry Osama Kamal criticizes the choice of the current government and advocates for solar energy.

Analyses converge in considering the use of coal as a factor that will deepen the energy crisis. Energy subsidies are regularly cited as being the main factor impeding the development of sustainable solutions. Subsidies also contribute to deepen social inequalities: of 130 billion EGP dedicated to energy subsidies in 2013, only 40bn went to the poor. The minister of planning said in an interview that electricity-, gas- and fuel prices would rise for big consumers before the presidential election at the end of May, in an attempt to reallocate resources toward the poor.

With shrinking natural gas resources and insufficient power generation capacity (20% below demand, following some simulations), institutions appear disorganized and unable to tackle the crisis. Lacking a long-term coherent plan, some middle term solutions have been mentioned, among others the interconnection with the Saudi electrical network. On the short-term, one seeks to reduce consumption, setting norms for air conditioners, installing smart meters, or reducing electrical consumption of governmental bodies. Solar energy is feebly mentioned, but investors –and especially military companies- seem to acknowledge its growing importance.

With power cuts announced to become longer with the summer, some offer tools to anticipate them: http://blackdays.elwatannews.com/

Mobility

The third line of the metro opened its new extension, from Abbasiya to Heliopolis. Sadat station is also partially reopened, as a transfer station only. Earlier in April, recently fired metro company chairman Fawzy explained conflicts he had had with the transport ministry.

Linking the metro to the Delta, a memorandum of understanding has been signed with the Chinese government for the construction of a 80km electrical railway between el-Salam city and Belbes.

Some news about the tuk-tuks status quo: presidential decree allows three-wheelers on the road on the condition that drivers obtain a license. Besides, a ban on tuk-tuks imports is still a possibility, as they are widely used to commit crimes, the state judicial body explained.

What will happen to the NDP headquarters?

The land on which stand the burned building of NDP headquarters will be handed over to the Egyptian museum. After a decision by the ministry of antiquities announcing the demolition of the building, the culture ministry objected that the building had historical value and should therefore be rehabilitated and house archeological institutions.


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