Egypt’s Urban Challenges in Light of Habitat III
The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III, is fast approaching in October 2016.In the Egyptian context, one starting point toward assessing progress of the set of commitments in the previous Habitat II Agenda, is to analyze the impact of housing policies and public resource distribution on urban inequality.
For decades, Egypt has been facing a housing crisis that governments have mismanaged and the (formal and informal) private sector has exploited. Land and housing have been treated as high-value commodities, with the housing market driven by real estate speculation. The nationwide 30% vacancy rate in residential units has not dampened the astronomical price hikes and the continuous construction of new units, 65% of which is supplied by the informal housing sector (CAPMAS, 2006).
This mismatch between housing supply and demand is intrinsically related to the absence of mechanisms to access affordable land and adequate housing. The government’s view of housing—as merely a housing unit—is also reflected in its public housing projects and programs, as policy makers and implementers fail to recognize the comprehensiveness of adequate housing, which includes accessibility to public services, transportation and decent work. Implemented public housing projects often exhibit characteristics similar to informal areas, such as encroachments on public space, absence of public services (schools, health units, security enforcement, etc.) and limited accessibility to public transportation networks.
Inequality in resource distribution is glaring in urban centers, with no discernable correlation between local needs and public investments. Publically available data show a clear disparity between the per-capita share of local development funds and poverty levels in Cairo’s districts. No mechanisms or tools function to ensure a just geographic distribution of public funds across the country, or even within the same city, so that the basic needs of all citizens are met.
These multiple forms of spatial deprivation can be better addressed through adopting a more-comprehensive outlook toward Egypt’s urban challenges. An integrated development approach that first upholds citizens’ constitutional and human rights and considers the specificity of local development needs when making policies and allocating public resources can be a significant step toward implementing a sustainable urban-development model.
For related commitments, see the following paragraphs of the Habitat II Agenda [Arabic]:
In integrated development: 43d, 85k; rural-urban balance: 9, 29, 43i,k, 99, 107, 109, 111, 126, 156, 163–69;
On equitable resource distribution: 45a, 48f, 56b,e,f,m, 59, 184f)
For a detailed assessment of spatial justice in Egypt, see Investigating Spatial Inequality in Cairo (Cairo: Tadamun, 2016).