For the past 3 years, a multi-disciplinary team of academics at the American University in Cairo (AUC) – the Slum Development Working Group – has been working to contribute to Egypt’s strategic vision for the slum development policy. This stemmed from their sense of duty as a higher education institution to contribute to the national slum development strategies with their expertise and knowledge. A symposium was organized on April 6th, 2014 to present and discuss the policy paper produced, “AUC Input for Egypt’s Strategy for Dealing with Slums.” This article provides an overview of what took place at the symposium, followed by a brief review of the AUC policy paper.
The AUC Symposium
The Symposium was attended by representatives of the Informal Settlement Development Facility (ISDF), the Cairo and Giza Governorates and the Population Council, in addition to academics and professionals. The event included presentations from the AUC’s Slum Development Working Group (SDWG), the ISDF, and Ma’an Foundation, followed by an open discussion session. The Director of the Center for Sustainable Development and the Lead Researcher on urban policy represented the AUC working group. The AUC presentation stressed the importance of creative solutions with a comprehensive outlook for development interventions that surpass upgrading the built environment and put into account the social and economic development of residents. The SDWG briefly showcased lessons that could be extracted from global slum development programs, most which revolved around the theme of participation and stakeholder engagement as a mechanism for ensuring the balance between the individual rights of slum area residents and the collective rights of city residents. To do so effectively, a change in perception is needed from looking at slum areas as cancerous parts of the city with residents waiting to exploit the state to get free upgraded accommodation, to one where the slum is recognized as a result of the inequality that the state is partially responsible for and the residents as partners in the development process, often willing to share the costs. In light of this, the SDWG sees that the most successful model for slum development is for the state (represented by the ISDF) to transparently set the national strategic vision with the involvement of CSOs, working horizontally with researchers and other stakeholders. The Policy Paper recommendations are discussed in detail later in this review.
The ISDF was represented by the Executive Director and the Head of Technical Support and Capacity Building Unit, their presentations focusing on the ISDF philosophy in slum development and the accomplishments achieved particularly since 2011. The ISDF briefly showcased their working methodology and the classification of informal areas, stating that they are currently developing 47 areas in Cairo based on detailed data and information collected in coordination with the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). The ISDF claimed that public participation and stakeholder engagement were key in all of their interventions and that most if not all of the AUC policy paper recommendations in fact already take place. However, when a member of an active local initiative in an informal area voiced her concern about the lack of transparency and information made available on development plans in her area, the ISDF simply replied that there are development plans in place to address the area’s problems and that these plans were created after community consultation – which she, an active member of the community, never heard of happening. The ISDF admitted to insufficient efforts in publicizing projects and achievements, and that it is something they are developing.
According to the ISDF, the current 47 development interventions are considered pilot projects to be utilized as lessons learned for future development projects in other areas. However, during the discussion period, this approach of addressing national planning as individual projects was criticized, as the Housing and Building Research Centre (HBRC) and other researchers already analyzed and documented the different development projects implemented over the past thirty years and that what is actually needed is a reform of the laws and policies on the national level. As mentioned earlier the ISDF agreed with most of the AUC recommendations on participation and stakeholder engagement and on legislative reforms particularly on unstable tenure as it relates to unsafe areas. On the other hand, they did hold an issue with an administrative reform recommended by the policy paper to establish a national council for slum upgrading that would merge the ISDF with the Ministry of State for Local Development. The ISDF stated that such a move would be a step backward and that they currently enjoy a sufficient degree of decision-making independence and the support of the Cabinet of Ministers.
The Ma’an (Together) Foundation was part of the symposium as one of the leading CSO examples in slum development. The Foundation is constructing Ma’an City, a 3,000 residential unit development that is under construction on a 62-acres land on the outskirts of Cairo with public facilities, services and employment opportunities to relocate residents in unsafe slum areas in Cairo. Their development philosophy is similar to that of the practice taken up by the government – relocating to desert cities – but they attempt to address one of the main critiques of that approach, the lack of services and employment opportunities. In efforts to do so, Ma’an tackles three development axes; education, training and job opportunities, and values and behavior. The latter was vaguely explained during the presentation as “moral and religious development.” The presentation also alluded to a selection process for relocation, but was also left without clarification. Due to the limited period of time allocated to the discussion session, there was no opportunity to have these two issues further clarified.
The discussion period was interesting albeit brief. The audience included experts in the fields of housing, economic development, and international funding agencies, in addition to representatives from the Cairo and Giza governorates. The discussion revolved around three main issues: legislative and administrative reforms on the national and governorate level, the role of the private sector in slum development, and reforming the business model adopted by the ISDF.
Reforms to the administrative system on the national and governorate level were suggested, including decentralization legislative reforms to empower the administration on the governorate level and administrative reforms to remove bureaucratic obstacles that face development efforts. The Giza Governorate official criticized the limited ISDF projects in his governorate and called for more cooperation between the ISDF and the governorates to optimize the use of the resources available at the local level through developing practical guidelines and working plans. Developing a more pragmatic business model for slum development was raised by several attendees as well to secure the financial resources needed for development projects, while ensuring that the rights of residents aren’t jeopardized in the process. A third issue raised in regards to the operation of the ISDF was the inadequate documentation and dissemination of current and future projects and the need to conduct impact analysis of completed projects.
Several participants including Ma’an Foundation and the Cairo Governorate Urban Upgrading Unit discussed the importance of engaging with the private sector and creating incentives to include it as an active stakeholder in the urban and economic development process of underprivileged areas. The discussion also had a few comments from researchers that reduced the problem of informal areas to rural migration and neglected statistics that clearly show that natural population growth of informal areas and Cairo as a whole far outweighs population increase caused by rural migration.
Overall, the symposium offered an opportunity to openly discuss the national slum development strategy and gave the opportunity for different stakeholders in slum development to discuss their ideas and concerns on how national projects are unfolding. There were a few opportunities for improvement that would have made this event more fruitful. The presence of a diverse range of attendees was noted, albeit missing key CSOs working in the field.1 As an invitation-only event, it would have been more beneficial for attendees to receive a soft copy of the policy paper’s recommendations beforehand so that the discussion could be more focused on the proposed recommendations. The time limitation strongly impacted the richness of the discussion, the diversity of attendees and the complexity of the topic needed more time to move past the symptoms and general recommendations to more concrete policy recommendations. Finally, at several instances, the ISDF took a defensive stance to any commentary on slum development practices, was sensitive to critique and transformed the discussion to a relay of their achievements.
Review of the AUC Policy Paper
The document is around 30 pages split into three parts, described as the input by AUC’s Slum Development Working Group to the Egyptian government’s ongoing efforts to address “the slum challenge at the policy and implementation levels”.
It begins by a situation analysis that provides background information on the phenomenon of informal housing in Egypt. It argues that in Egypt planned urban development is the exception while informality is the norm, as even many buildings in planned areas violate building codes in one way or another.
According to ISDF data cited by the policy paper, around 10-15% of the country’s informal areas suffer from deteriorated living conditions, while the majority (85-90%) are in good condition. Thus, following in the footsteps of the ISDF, the document differentiates between “unplanned areas” and “squatter slums”. The policy paper gives an overview of past state responses to the phenomenon, and argues that while the establishment of the ISDF and its stated approach to prioritize in-situ upgrading whenever possible is definitely positive, the challenge remains “that the Egyptian government is still dealing with housing merely on the basis of its physical condition”. The document states that it is necessary to deal with slums from a livelihood perspective using a holistic approach to address poverty, labor skills, and social capital.
After detailing some global approaches and trends, the policy paper outlines a number of principles of slum-development, such that it should be people-centered, participatory, and involve all stakeholders. It also outlines different approaches to slum development beginning with on-site upgrading by providing resources for slum-dwellers to upgrade their own homes using incremental housing. Other options include on-site redevelopment that keeps residents on the same site but in a new development such that it allows for other activities on the same site (such as what is being proposed for the Maspero triangle), vicinity relocation which entails moving residents to a nearby site (such as the Susan Mubarak Duweiqa residences), and relocation to a new site (such as Haram City). The policy paper argues that this should be last resort and should always consider livelihoods when relocating.
It also touches on the financial model used by ISDF which relies on a revolving fund system such that it offers financing to the executive agencies (mainly the governorates) and aims at full cost-recovery through sale of, or investment in, the land on which the slum lies. It ends with a discussion of financing mechanisms and argues that while the ISDF revolving fund model may be suitable in some cases, it cannot be the only model used. Citing the example of Hay Al-Salam in Ismailia governorate, it shows how local funding can work well and how the project was negatively impacted when the fund was taken over by the Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Development and centralized becoming inaccessible to both residents and local government. It then provides some international alternative models, but does not delve into the suitability of these models for application in the Egyptian context.
Overall the policy paper is quite well presented and provides a lot of useful background information. It provides a solid basis in terms of principles to be considered in policy-development, and gives an overview of past strategies, but is missing a detailed analysis of existing policies and legislation, what has and hasn’t worked, and what needs to be changed. In addition, the AUC policy paper could have been potentially stronger if it had touched upon the following issues:
Overall, the document is quite useful, and draws many important lessons from international best practices. It provides a solid basis on which one can build a detailed policy note drawing on the existing institutional and legislative frameworks, critical analysis of existing policies, and based on field research with residents of informal areas. Although not a stand-alone policy note, the AUC contribution can provide an opportunity for local civil society and researchers to continue this effort and present concrete policy and legislative recommendations.
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