Media roundup on the city: May/June 2014

Territorial development

New cities policy is still on the agenda, as confirmed with the launch of the Egypt 2052 plan in el Alamein: “we want to avoid the negative aspects of old cities in building new ones” Housing Minister Mostafa Madbouly declared. Whereas this kind of urban development has been heavily criticized, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development finances the extension of a retail and entertainment center in 6th of October City. In one of his rare allusion to a political program before his election, new president al-Sisi also mentioned his “map of the future”. At the core of this map is a development corridor designed by Farouk el Baz in 1985 and dismissed in 2005 by the Mubarak administration because of its exorbitant price (more details in this article).

Trying to go beyond public declarations, an article enquires aborted development plans in Sinai, and the “magic” that governs the region. Elsewhere, it has been noted that development programs underway were not what had been planned and tourism oriented infrastructures are the only ones to see the light of day and can be summarized by the equation “more hotel equal better life”: how did tourism shape the region?

In South Sinai, this kind of rash development has impacts that are not being addressed properly. Sharm el Sheikh residents were able to halt a shaky cliff restoration project that is failing to address the root cause of damage.

Whereas the dominant paradigm of territorial development seems to consist in building projects, rather than thinking of good governance, Jadaliyya publishes the concluding remarks of a report about decentralization in the Arab world (Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen). The study compares links of current systems with their colonial legacy, but also observes how States support and subvert decentralization policies and how local authorities are reluctant to collect taxes. This study also presents some successful strategies implemented by local authorities.

Alternatives for social housing?

With Minister of Housing Mostafa Madbouly announcing the delivery of 50.000 housing units for the average and low-income households, housing rights advocate’s critic on housing policies is once again relevant. The recent report by EIPR is largely quoted in the media and now available in English. The report is also an answer to the housing law recently adopted, which excludes the poorest 40% of households from social housing as well as informal sector workers. The report is the first of a series on social housing.

The author, Yahia Shawkat, presents his conclusions in Mada Masr, and makes some proposals for reforming social housing. He assesses the 3 different ‘social’ housing plans currently underway and challenges their denomination as social housing since they are only benefiting the middle class. He advocates renting the units instead of selling them, in order to finally make the units affordable for poor households, thus making informal housing less attractive.

Ministries of Agriculture and Local development have dealt with a bill about informal construction on the agricultural land, in order to recover the 47,000 feddans illegally built since 2011.

Water and agriculture

With the release of a report by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and statistics (CAPMAS) about water availability in Egypt, Mada Masr focuses on links between water and agriculture. Agriculture eats up 82,6% of the country’s water resources. The article estimates how much water you would need to grow all the wheat that is being imported (about 10,3 million tons this year, notably from Ukraine) but forgets to analyze water needs for crop grown for exportations purposes.

The completion of the Nubaria irrigation improvement project is a reminder that reclamation of new agricultural land is still underway, and thus that water needs are bound to rise regularly.

The CAPMAS report also contains arguments for the negotiations with upstream countries. Meanwhile, Egypt has softened its stance on the Ethiopian Dam. The government also announced launching a new satellite designed notably to collect data about water security.

Besides, there are discussions about alternative economic models in the agrarian sector. The Farm to Fork conference focused on sustainable business practices in the local food and restaurant industry. For now aimed at privileged clients, able to pay 100EGP for a weekly basket of pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, it is nevertheless a thoughtful consideration on food autonomy and traditional agrarian practices.

Energy

The energy sector is trying to adapt in a country becoming more and more an energy importer. New infrastructures have to be built; foreign companies are looking for mitigation strategies. In order to keep power plants running, the government is cutting back on contractual share of petroleum resources dedicated to energy companies. The aftermath of this cutback makes the country weaker in negotiating new contracts.

Coal use being authorized, infrastructure adaptation is also happening in the cement industry. Despite adaption costs, investors seem to follow through. Social and environmental costs are still disputed, notably through the court case initiated against governmental bodies for approving the use of coal. The final decision was supposed to be known in June, but the judge finally stepped down citing “discomfort”. Protesting against EBRD funding the cement industry in its adaption to coal use, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights has also published its correspondence with the EBRD. The center created a main facts sheet about coal and cement in the Egyptian economy.

Power cuts are still the most obvious aspect of the crisis. Attempts are being made to reduce domestic consumption: with the help of international oil companies, ministries of electricity and petroleum launched an awareness campaign. Attempts to rationalize energy use are leading to some form of acknowledgment of informal neighborhoods:  meters will be installed in buildings irregularly connected to the network. Power cuts can be anticipated, data from electricity providers are displayed on a map through the Khodbalak application. Recently, the cabinet approved a 30% price increase for heavy consumers to be implemented in July.

Mobility

Mada Masr makes a parallel between the ban on tuk-tuks imports and the state’s stance toward informal neighborhood. For Shawkat, it reflects once again the tendency to focus on symptoms, forgetting root causes. According to Sims, this decision illustrates the social class gap between those deciding the ban and those living in areas where tuk-tuks are the only mean of transportation. According to a decree dating back to the Mubarak era, dozens of tuk-tuks have been confiscated in central areas recently. In the meantime, some kiosks selling cigarets, drinks and snacks have been dismantled in Zamalek.

Many developments programs were announced at the opening of a new section on the 3rd metro line. : new buses for Cairo Transport Authority, new “smart buses” line serving Heliopolis and Nasr City,  extension of the 3rd metro line to al Remaya in 2018 and to the airport in 2019. Transport minister also negotiated a technical cooperation agreement about maintenance and development of public transportation during his recent visit in France.

8 years after wreckage in 2006, passenger ferry service between Suez and Duba (Saudi Arabia) will resume on June 18th.


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