The Local Services Workshops series delves into one of the issues that has been raised the most in almost every community workshop TADAMUN has conducted. In those community workshops, we ask Cairenes living in different neighborhoods to tell us about their areas: what they like about them, what they do not and what they want to see changed. Almost always, they identify access to, and provision of, services, as a major cause for concern. This series of workshops probes this particular issue further, with the aim of specifying problem services and also understanding how residents deal with them.
Following a brief introduction of TADAMUN, participants are asked:
`Izbit Khayrallah is a vast area spanning over 400 acres, which is situated between Old Cairo to the north and Maʿādī to the south. Its inhabitants have long suffered to secure their tenure rights, and thereby, their access to services. 1 To find out more about the latter, TADAMUN conducted this workshop in partnership with Gam`iya Nahdit Khayrallah [The Association for the Renaissance of Khayrallah] and with the participation of ten men from the area.2
The quality of education, the lack of youth clubs, the lack of public transport, the state of the roads and the lack of social solidarity services were all issues of concern, but the following services were identified as being the most important to their day-to-day lives:
According to the residents, each of these services suffer from problems that makes it very difficult for them to fulfill their needs. In the following section, we detail precisely why participants consider the aforementioned services problematic and what they do to address the lack or malfunction of these services.
Getting connected to the water supply in the area is a relatively easy process. Residents mentioned that while the procedures of getting connected to the water network and receiving a water meter may have been complicated before, in recent years the procedures have been simplified. Today, the first thing they need in order to apply for a water connection is an electrical bill to prove the dwelling’s address. Then they must pay a retroactive amount to compensate for water consumed by the applicant before installing the meter. This bill tends to amount to EGP 1000 per floor and is divided into installments that are added to subsequent bills. The applicant must then pay for the meter itself as well as the cost of the sub-main pipes that connect the dwelling to the main.
Although procedurally this seems quite straightforward, it tends to be quite a costly process, due mainly to the retroactive bills. Participants complained that the amount of the bills tend to be much higher than the estimated consumption by the applicant. Furthermore, in some cases there was quite a long period of time between the time residents applied for a meter and when they actually received it. The retroactive bill is meant to cover these gap years, in addition to years prior to applying based on the estimate of the water company. This results in very high amounts that residents either refuse to pay or simply cannot afford.
Once the meter is installed, residents complained that bills continue to be based on arbitrary charges rather than the water meter readings. Residents claim that in order for the Company to cut costs, it does not always send someone to read the meter, but rather relies on arbitrarily estimating consumption based on the size of the building. Thus, the bi-monthly payments required of the residents are often baffling. “The water company is clamping down hard”, said one participant. For example, many participants whose average bills are usually around EGP 400 have been charged around EGP 700-800, and once a little under EGP 2000. Some residential dwellings are incorrectly classified as commercial buildings and thus charged using the commercial tariff rather than the residential one. Applicants sometimes find themselves charged for non-existing or un-inhabited floors. It is also not unusual to receive an arbitrary bill before installing the meter, even though they are already charged a retroactive amount for the same time-period. Should they have any objections, they have no recourse but to go to the water company, pay first, and then complain. Sometimes the charged amount will be reduced in exchange for a bribe.
Furthermore, residents complained that instead of getting a bill every two months, they often do not receive their bills for several months, which increases the recorded consumption and pushes them into the higher consumption stratum, thus charging them at a higher rate.
Residents also complained that there is not always funding available to service the areas in need – whether for new connections or maintenance of the existing network. For example, when some residents had once approached the Greater Cairo Water Company to connect a particular area in `Izbit Khayrallah to the water network, they were told that there were no funds left in the budget for this and that they could carry out this task on their own, with no technical or financial assistance, but would, nevertheless, have to pay an exorbitant “supervision” charge of EGP 27,500 in exchange for the Company sending an engineer to supervise the process.
Costly procedures and bills are not all there is when it comes to water. Poor maintenance is yet another grievance for the residents. The water pipes were recently removed and replaced, but the new pipes are too narrow. To prevent the pipes from exploding, the Company has closed the valves. As a result, only people living on the 1st and 2nd floors have water. A motor is required to pump up the water to higher floors, but if the whole area installs motors, the load will be too great and the water will cut off.
Electricity is one of the most vital services that residents try to obtain as soon as they move into a new dwelling. Since `Izbit Khayrallah is an informal area, residents cannot simply apply for a legal electricity connection but rather must go through a maze of informal procedures. To obtain a legal connection, they must go through a complicated, costly and potentially futile process, with little choice but to comply.
Firstly they must spend several months paying an arbitrary sum – usually around EGP 150-200 – under the banner of something called “mumārsa” (Arabic for “practice”). Mumārsa is a workaround used by utility companies to enable them to collect payments from users who do not have meters. Since there is no meter, payments are based on arbitrary charges that tend to be around EGP 150-200 per building according to residents. According to residents and experts, there is actually no legal basis for this practice, and thus residents paying for electricity via mumārsa are still considered to be using an illegal connection.
The electricity company assumes that any applicant from `Izbit Khayrallah must have been tapping into the network illegally prior to applying for a legal connection, and thus requires that all applicants file a police report against themselves for stealing electricity, even if they had been paying the company mumārsa charges. Residents claim that even if one was not illegally using electricity, filing a police report against oneself for tapping illegally into the grid is one of the tacit process requirements. In this report the applicant is asked to declare the period of time over which they have had electricity. He may state whatever duration he wishes. Since nobody checks, the applicant may use this to his advantage and manage to lower the payment that he would have to make. Thus, in order for a building owner to legalize his connection, he – after several months of paying the arbitrary mumārsa charges – must file a police report against himself for stealing electricity (a serious offense in Egypt) and pay the consequent fine.
The next step is to obtain an electricity bill from a neighboring dwelling to evince the dwelling’s address.
Finally, the connection of the household to the main power supply in the area is the applicant’s responsibility. Applicants are expected to install electricity themselves at their own expenses and without any assistance or technical guidance regarding material specifications. This, of course, amounts to an additional financial burden and increases the risk of a faulty connection. The participants explained that cables purchased do not meet the specifications set because a) cables available on the market are too narrow and b) people tend, naturally, to buy the cheapest cables. Added to the cost of material required to complete the process such as cables is the cost of the inspection: applicants are required, after installation, to bring an engineer to inspect what they have done. The materials and the inspection had cost of the attendees EGP 2700 and EGP 7000, respectively. In addition to paying the cost of connecting the dwelling to the main cable, they must also pay the cost of the meter, an amount that reaches around EGP 1645.
Regularizing the electricity supply is only one part of the problem; service cost and quality are two other major concerns. Residents complain that even after undergoing this process they continue to get very high bills in comparison to other (formal) neighborhoods. Participants complained that they pay too much and too disproportionately to how much electricity they use. One participant has been previously charged EGP 100-150 though he lives in a small-sized apartment and his consumption is limited. Such disproportionate charges are due to how their bills are calculated: reputedly, similar to water discussed earlier, bill collectors do not read the meters; they call out people’s names from the streets and tell them the amounts they have to pay. To attempt to lower their bills, residents have to offer the bill collector a bribe, or go to the electricity company (where they have to pay the bill issued before complaining about it). Given the already high costs imposed upon them, governmental plans to remove electricity subsidies are, naturally, a source of concern.
What’s more, the existing electrical infrastructure undergoes no or negligible maintenance. Some of the participants said that it had not in fact been replaced since its installation in the 1970s. The neglect of the electrical structure results in frequent power cuts. Moreover, replacing faulty cables with wires, for example, or leaving electrical boxes open poses safety risks for the residents. Participants cited poor pay and corruption as reasons behind poor maintenance; they believe that employees sent by the electricity company to install additional cables sell half of them, if not more, before arriving into `Izbit Khayrallah to do the required repair work.
When facing power outages or other complications, the residents first call the company to complain. Usually, the company does not respond and so the residents call emergency services and make up a crisis to get someone to fix the problem.
The sanitation network covers the area, but as far as the participants are concerned, it is as bad as none at all. Wastewater flooding is a common occurrence, particularly in al-Maḥjar (one of the area’s main streets) as well as in al-Nahda street. This problem was attributed to the poor design of the sanitation system, which failed to take into account the irregularity of the area’s terrain. The wastewater does not just flood the streets but has, on occasion, even seeped into the buildings. Residents managed to draw media attention to their local problem, but the pressure proved insufficient; a bribe did the job.
“The government does nothing whatsoever”, the participants remarked while explaining their experience of this service (or more precisely, its lack). Although electricity bills include fees for waste collection, no service is rendered in return, thus obliging the locals to collect and dispose of their household waste themselves. The participants said that there are some who come around in carts to collect garbage, but they do so at a charge per bag, which makes it an economically unviable option for most. Naturally, the government’s failure to provide this service leads to the accumulation of waste on `Izbit Khayrallah’s streets and in the neighboring district of Dār al-Salām (where garbage also gets thrown). Another matter of concern are the safety risks; one participant cited cases of children who died while out throwing garbage, blaming their death on the absence of this particular service.
Finally, according to the participants, the residents had raised this issue to Usāma Kamāl, Governor of Cairo between January and August 2013, but nothing was done. To pressure a response, some have resorted to throwing their garbage on the Ring Road.
With no functioning public health facilities in the area, residents seek healthcare at facilities located nearby in Dār al-Salām, or elsewhere in the city.3 Participants said they went to hospitals in Dār al-Salām, al-Malik al-Sāliḥ, al-Sayida Zaynab, al- Qasr al-‘Ainy, and al-Mūnira. Their access to hospitals elsewhere does not amount to much, however, considering how poor the service is wherever they go and how much they incur in costs (as a result of poor quality service). The participants’ dissatisfaction is not limited to the hospitals they frequent: even the family planning clinic located in Dār al-Salām (the closest public clinic) is by the participants’ accounts, “very limited”. Residents of `Izbit Khayrallah are further disadvantaged in access to emergency medical help. The chairman of the association explained that ambulance vehicles fail to move due to where they are currently stationed and that they do not budge without a fee.
1. For more on the area, see TADAMUN’s Community Workshop and Know Your City article.
2. The target group of attendees was intended to include women, but none of the women invited attended.
3. `Izbit Khayrallah has no hospital and the only public health facility within its borders – a unit offering dentistry and pediatrics services – operates as though it were a private practice.
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