Cairo – Egypt, North Africa

Cairo has been described as one of the world’s most unattractive cities. It has a population of around 15 million and is still growing. It is located on the banks of the river Nile’s delta. The soil in the area is rich and very fertile, which makes the area excellent farmland.

Migrants come from the whole of the region to live in Cairo. This is perhaps due to the services and jobs available there. The only problem is that they have nowhere to move in to, except for other people’s roofs or the “City of The Dead”. The lack of accommodation is not solely due to their expense, but also to the lack of room for expansion. It is because of this that some regions of Cairo have illegally high buildings exceeding ten floors, have been allowed to “Rise up.” The government merely turns a blind eye to them because of the desperate need for housing.

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Migrants that settle on the roofs of buildings are called, “Roof top Dwellers”. They tend to inhabit the roofs of the places in which they work. An example of this would be a caretaker for an office block, who walked up a flight of stairs, up on to the roof when it was time to go home. When they can afford it, roof top dwellers construct rooms out of bricks so as to make a proper house and many even cover areas with soil so that they can grow crops there.

Migrants also move to the “City of The Dead.” This is an area east of the centre of Cairo. It is simply a cemetery for Muslims. Instead of graves, the dead are buried in a way similar to how the Pharaoh’s were in ancient Egypt. The bodies are enclosed in tombs, which all have their own separate rooms. Migrants move in to these places and quite happily live there and work in the city. Today a police station, post office, schools and a simple bus route can be found there.

To a westerner, this all seems quite bizarre, but it is a remarkably good system. The main question that was asked was “Are they doing any harm?” To which the answer was “No.” This is on the whole true, because:

* The government would otherwise have to provide shelter for the migrants. Instead, basic sanitation, water and electricity are provided. The settlers are happy and the government does not have to the added burden of building extra homes.

* The owners of the buildings on which roof dwellers live, have a permanent resident who can look after the building at night when all workers have gone home. There is always someone there in case of an emergency and a degree of security is provided as a result.

* Anyone who has to look after the tomb or grave of a family member knows that it is hard to maintain them. The living inhabitants of the City of the Dead are also, in a way, caretakers. They have to live near the tombs so they keep them clean and in good repair. In return for this they are allowed to live there in peace and are doing more good than harm.

All in all, the population of the City of the Dead and roof top dwellers accounts for around five million people.

A population of 15 million people produces a vast amount of waste. The government, however, does not collect the majority of it, but instead a Christian group does. They go around the streets of Cairo and collect rubbish, sort it and then recycle it. From this they gain substantial revenue and the streets of large areas of Cairo are kept clean.

Solving The Problem of Overpopulation.

Cairo had and has too big a population. This means that there are strains on the resources of the city and further population growth could de-stabilise the economy. To solve this problem, the government has tried to build towns in the desert and is subsidising families to go and live there. Fifty miles away, a new town was constructed. A typical apartment has two bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room. Roof top dwellers and migrants only dream about this sort of size and this is what is attractive.

The major miscalculation made by the government was that people need a source of income and this means employment. Jobs are in the city, Cairo, and few others exist outside of the city. It is for this reason that the new town has been deemed a dismal failure and that perhaps people are more reluctant to flock there. The solution to this would be to subsidise businesses and firms to locate near the new towns, or to provide a source of transportation to carry workers to and from the places at which they work.

Western Influences.

Western influences are a suggested cause of Cairo’s problem and the third world in general. Countries such as the U.K and the U.S.A have highly developed economies. This means that by comparing an MEDC to an LEDC, there should be major differences between cities. These differences are however not any longer clear. Cairo has now tall office buildings climbing high in to the sky, a new replica of the Paris metro system has been constructed and solutions to overpopulation such as the construction of new towns, are all ideas based on western economies. The results of these “Improvements” have shown to be ineffective and even disastrous in some cases.

A popular solution to traffic congestion in Britain was to build ring roads. The principal is that traffic requiring to cross-town during the day can use the ring road. The theory then suggests that no-essential traffic will be eliminated from the city centres. In 1985 an eight-lane motorway (Ring road) was begun. It encircled the whole of the eastern side of Cairo but came to a crashing halt when the president was forced to stop the west construction due to the damage vibrations would cause to the pyramids. Another disaster?

Egyptian law states that buildings should not be over six stories in height. Then why are there huge tower blocks in Cairo? The answer is that firms bribe the government to ignore the laws in certain cases. Not only do they look out of place, but also they are unsafe, as proven in 1992 after an earthquake rocked the city. All the old buildings took minor damage but tower blocks actually collapsed. This suggests that there is very good reason for there to be restrictions governing the height and construction of buildings.

Every new, western, building requires an air conditioner, whilst the old houses from the middle ages, do not. This is due to western suggestions of erecting buildings covered in about 40% glass. Glass magnifies the heat during the day, and conducts cold air at night, thus resulting in requiring climate control. Old buildings have shutters instead of windows. The lack of glass means that the room stays cool during the day, and can be kept warm at night.

The bulk of new construction takes place on the flood plains. This is a mistake that has been made and suffered greatly by many people in the western world. The reason a flood plain is there is to accommodate the excess discharge in a river during a rainy season. It would therefore be logical and sensible not to build on these areas of land. This is because flooding destroys houses and vast amounts of money are spent on repairing flood-damaged areas.

In the case of Cairo there is not only the risk of flooding, but all the farmland that has sustained the region since Egyptian times will be lost. There are no more deposits of alluvium and other areas are generally poor for farming. It seems that Egypt is making a mistake that mirrors and magnifies those made by us. We in Britain are less and less dependent on farming as a source of economic stability. In an under developed economy such as Egypt’s, farming could be a vast resource. Food production could be increased, jobs created, revenue would be generated and famine could be kept minimal in the northern region of Africa, not just Egypt.

The conclusion is that LEDC’s should not adopt western solutions and trends before having analysed the advantages and disadvantages and the overall affect that they will have on the economy and the country as a whole.

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