CAIRO, the biggest city and metropolis in the Middle East and Africa -with a population of 16-20 millions- is a city that has the culture, the history, the nightlife, the year round warm climate, the strategic location, and the educational facilities that have supplied Egyptians and all neighboring Arabs and Africans with higher level learning for decades. As some might think, Cairo does have it all. What some of us do know, this is not the only face of Cairo. The city has a behind-the-scenes side, a dark one; a study by the UN has revealed that 25-35 % of Cairo’s population live in slums within and around it.
A slum, as defined by the United Nations agency UN-HABITAT, is a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing and squalor and lacking in tenure security. The term has traditionally referred to housing areas that were once relatively affluent but which deteriorated as the original dwellers moved on to newer and better parts of the city, but has come to include the vast informal settlements found in cities in the developing world.
Slums in Cairo started to rise in the 1960s with little to no formal attention or control over its crawl, the city’s slum has grown to accommodate 3-5 million inhabitants of Greater Cairo today. The spread of these run-down areas have taken a very alarming sequence, where every moderate and high class district of the city is surrounded or neighbored by a slum, in which the slum residents make their living through parasitic services and activities in the more prosperous areas (as wiping cars and selling Chinese goods (or bads) at stop lights, helping you park on the streets by acting as your personal navigation system, or simply begging for any change you can spare). Of course the scene of homeless kids sleeping on a sidewalk, a donkey carriage of garbage making its way through business district traffic, or plain harassments are more of a norm in Cairo today.
More on the serious side, people living in slums (or the Shade – as they refer to themselves) suffer extreme poverty, illiteracy, demeaning healthcare, no infrastructure and social services, yet costing the country -that once turned its back on them- a fortune, with no benefit out of their production or taxes. This all is causing the country a great loss to its human resources. No education, no proper job (if at all), no production, no development, rise in crime rates, possible spread of diseases through unhealthy living conditions; you name it, it’s all there!
Don’t get me wrong, as an Egyptian I would never want to negatively influence my city’s or country’s image (some stereotypes would say, this is not helping tourism, we should point out our good sides only to attract travelers), sorry, I want to point out reality; we solve this, and bragging about it later would be well deserved. Anyone who’s been to or lived in Cairo knows that it has everything, the good, the bad, the rich, the poor, the historical, the modern, the clean, the dirty, the luxurious and the simple all in one place, which as a fact gives a surprising sense of contrast and excitement to visitors.
Yet, Slums are time bombs that cannot be denied. Look at it this way, ONE uneducated uncivilized unhealthy unemployed ignorant man produces 4-6 children raised under the same behavior and inhumane conditions! Multiply this case by millions! And you can foresee the consequences. So, it’s either Egyptians face this cancerous activity within their society, or the ambition of a modernized and developed “NewEgypt” -that already have the richest history possible- is quiet ruined. It’s never too late Cairo. Now is definitely the time for new hope.