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Amid the rubble
Published in Ahram Online on 30 - 03 - 2021

Twenty-five people were killed and around 25 injured when a 10-storey building collapsed in the East Cairo Gesr Al-Suez district. The structure, believed to be the oldest in the area, collapsed early morning on Saturday 27 March while residents were sleeping.
According to the Spokesman for the Minister of Health and Population Khaled Megahed, 18 residents were discharged from hospital after receiving the required medical treatment.
Various factors appear to have contributed to the fall. The building carried four floors beyond the number permitted by its building licence. The building was originally used as a storage for frozen food, which caused the walls to dampen. There were also modifications to convert the first two floors into a clothes factory. That caused the building to tilt, prompting some residents to evacuate two days earlier.
According to Mohamed Abdel-Hadi, head of Al-Salam district, the building was just one example of many which are violating building codes in Cairo. There are currently more than 300 buildings which contravene building codes, at least 8,000 of which are in danger of collapsing and more than 15,000 infringe construction regulations.
Abdel-Hadi pointed out that past efforts to tear the buildings down have been met with fierce opposition from residents and owners. "The families refuse to leave their homes out of fear of becoming homeless although the governorate can provide them with alternative housing. Although the Cairo governorate has offered alternative houses for the eight families of the building that collapsed, they still refuse to leave," Abdel-Hadi said.
Many buildings which collapse in Egypt are either built with poor materials or are not in accordance with construction regulations, stated Abdel-Hadi, many times leading to devastating consequences.
Cairo Governor Khaled Abdel-Aal formed an engineering committee to examine the properties adjacent to the building in Gesr Al-Suez to ascertain whether they were affected by the collapse. "The committee noted several modifications to the building's basement which resulted in its collapse," said Abdel-Aal in a press release. The owner of the building is currently being questioned by the general prosecution. He was previously notified about the building's violations but took no measures to correct them.
Egypt saw a significant rise in illegal construction after the security vacuum that followed the 2011 uprising, with many people constructing multi-storey buildings without acquiring the necessary permits or complying with engineering safety standards. Constructors who seek more profit frequently violate building permits by adding extra floors.
The government recently launched a crackdown on illegal building across the country, jailing violators and in many cases demolishing the buildings.
It has also asked citizens to reconcile over building violations. Reconciliation requests are accepted when safety standards in a building are met. The government has received over two million reconciliation requests over the past seven months and collected more than LE16 billion as reconciliation fees.
Abdel-Hadi revealed that there are 700,000 building violations, with only 10 per cent of their perpetrators having sought a solution with the government. "More than 10,000 buildings have been demolished throughout the past months," he added.
A 15-storey building was demolished near the Ring Road in the Giza governorate in early February after it was weakened by a 12-day fire. The fire had started in a shoe factory on the first two floors of the building which had been built without a licence in 2013.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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