Egyptians blame government for rockslide tragedy

Other News Materials 9 September 2008 23:21 (UTC +04:00)

As rescuers teams continue to remove huge rocks that toppled from a hillside and flattened dozens of houses in a Cairo shantytown, many Egyptians are blaming the government for ignoring warnings of a disaster waiting to happen, reported dpa.

Egyptian bloggers have been at the forefront in describing the aftermath of last Saturday's disaster below Moqattam hill which claimed at least 51 lives and left 57 injured.

"Egypt woke up to a catastrophe that could have been avoided if there had been a pro-active regime that gave priority to the safety of its citizens regardless of their social status," wrote one blogger, who goes under the name Zeinobia.

Writing her Egyptian Chronicles, Zeinobia said people in the affected Doweiqa neighbourhood on the edge of the Egyptian capital had complained about their safety several times in the past.

Other residents quoted in media reports said they had informed authorities a year ago that a crack had appeared in a rocky overhang.

Eight rocks, weighing between 100 and 500 tons, separated from the cliff face and crashed down on 35 houses in the shantytown of Mansheyat Nasserthat that lies at the foot of the Moqattam hill.

Some 1.3 million people live in the poorly developed area, which grew over the decades as poor rural dwellers moved to the city.

On a foreign blog, Dave posted a two-year-old article published in the Egyptian Gazette. It quoted several people living in Doweiqa who spoke of rocks falling on them from the hills above. Residents quoted in the 2006 article say they "made numerous complaints to official bodies."

"This two-year-old article appears to foresee the event that occurred this weekend. One wonders if the interviewees, and their families, survived," wrote Dave.

Criticism was not only restricted to personal blogs. Experts and columnists started their own campaign through local newspapers.

Noted Egyptian architect Mamdouh Hamza was quoted by the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm as saying the government was fully responsible for this disaster because it disregarded numerous geological studies, which predicted a tragedy years ago.

"Geological studies conducted in 1993 and 2002 all predicted the event and noted that the rocks surrounding Doweiqa had been gradually eroding and could fall at any moment," Hamza said, adding that he had once presented a detailed study suggesting possible solutions.

Saturday's tragedy is not the first. In 1964 a huge rock fell from Moqattam hill onto a main road in the aftermath of an earthquake. In 1984, another rockslide took place.

The most catastrophic was a rockslide in 1993 that killed about 70 people in a village adjacent to Doweiqa.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Ali Ibrahim of Al-Gomhuria criticized the government for saying residents were partly to blame because they built the slums where Saturday's disaster occured.

"Those living in these shantytowns have no alternative. Doweiqa and Mansheyat Nasser are not the only areas we can describe as slums. There are dozens of such slums which ring Cairo like an explosive belt," Ibrahim observed.

Back in Doweiqa, residents vowed not to rest until they got the government to acknowledge it had been "reckless" in dealing with the situation.

"The government knew that people could die and in spite of this it did not take any action," resident Waheed Rabie was quoted in media reports as saying.