Amnesty criticizes Egypt probe of rockslide

Amnesty criticizes Egypt probe of rockslide

CAIRO: Leading international human rights organization, Amnesty International, has lashed out at the Egyptian government over what it said was Cairo’s dismissal of the poorer segments of society that live in threat of rockslides destroying their homes. In report published Tuesday, the London-based rights group called on the Egyptian government to take immediate action to ensure the safety of all its citizens.

It comes as investigations into a massive rockslide that left possibly hundreds dead in 2008 have yet to be revealed by the government here.

“Thousands of Egypt’s poor are trapped by poverty and neglect that could ultimately end in their deaths,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.

“The government must urgently address the risks faced by those living in areas designated as ‘unsafe’ and find solutions by consulting with those directly affected,” he added.

Amnesty’s report, “Buried Alive: Trapped by Poverty and Neglect in Cairo’s Informal Settlements” details the Egyptian government’s failure to protect residents of al-Duwayqa, an informal settlement in the poor Manshiyet Nasr area of Cairo. In September 2008, a massive rockslide hit the area, destroying scores of homes, killing more than 100 people and wounding dozens others in what has resulted in widespread controversy over Cairo’s apparent failure to act before the slide occurred.

The report details 26 other “unsafe areas” in the Greater Cairo area and calls on authorities to protect residents with adequate housing. According to Amnesty, the Egyptian government was well aware of the dangers of rockslides in the are, but “did not evacuate the impoverished residents before the 2008 disaster.”

According to some estimates, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s official website, around 500 people were killed when the rocks slammed into their makeshift homes.

Amnesty is demanding Cairo complete its investigation into the reasons for the Duwayqa incident and take the necessary precautions in order to ensure a disaster of this proportion is not repeated.

“The government must develop a comprehensive program of action to address the risks faced by those living in ‘unsafe areas’ and to uphold their rights to life, health and adequate housing,” added Smart. “In doing so, they must seek the active participation of the affected communities, and they must be prepared to provide temporary housing promptly to people needing to be evacuated because of immediate risks, as well as permanent housing.”

The area is sandwiched between the capital’s sprawling metropolis and the Muqattam hills, where ongoing real estate projects continue. A number of observers argued shortly after the incident that the construction on the mountain may have been the cause of the massive stone slabs to tumble off the mountain and onto the area.

Duwayqa was largely an ‘ashwayi’at – or shantytown – and when the stones fell, there was no warning for the area’s residents. The government was slow to respond, only days after the incident, bringing in the army to help search for bodies and remove the debris that had begun to cause the smell of decay and death to grow.

Journalists were barred from the area by security forces and cameras were not allowed into the area less than 24 hours after the incident. The slide caused widespread anger against the Egyptian government, as activists believed the response was slow and was not appropriate to the needs of Egyptian citizens.