7 September 2008

The Cairo rockslide foreseen?

Posted by Dave Petley

EPA/MIKE NELSON image showing the displaced blocks at El Doweiqa

The death toll in the rock slide at El Doweiqa in the Manshiet Nasser slum of east Cairo is slowly creeping upwards. At the time of writing it has exceeded 30 people, but unfortunately as the image below shows the likelihood is that it will be much higher once these huge blocks have been shifted (if ever). As an aside, the news reports tend to refer to these blocks as weighing hundreds of tonnes. In fact they are probably much heavier than this – a 10 x 10 x 10 m block typically weighs over 2300 tonnes. Some of these blocks may be substantially larger than this, suggesting that blasting will be the only option if the victims’ remains are to be recovered.

EPA/MIKE NELSON image showing the displaced blocks at El Doweiqa

There are interesting sets of amateur images here and here.

Most interesting however is an article from the “Egyptian Gazette” dated 23rd July 2006. I have reproduced the article below. Compare the photograph with the image at the top of this posting – it is clearly the same location.

The text of this article says the following:

“NOTHING can be more difficult for a human being than to wait for the death that’s drawing nigh. How can someone live in a house at the bottom of a hill while a huge rock is poised precariously at the top, ready to roll down and smash that house to smithereens? Gomaa Abdel-Bari, whose family live along with 2,800 others in el-Doweiqa, have experienced rocks falling on them from the hills above, damaging the walls of their homes.

“I’ve made numerous complaints to official bodies, including the local administration and human rights organisations, but in vain,” Abdel-Bari told October weekly magazine. To prevent more rock falls, local inhabitants say they want to demolish the rocks that threaten them, with the help of machinery belonging to the local council. “We’ve already broken up some of the rocks, at a cost of LE4,000, money collected from poor residents,” explains Ashraf Abdel-Tawwab.

But we cannot afford to demolish the rest on our own. Besides, it’s dangerous work. If one rock comes loose, it can cause a domino effect, resulting in a disastrous avalanche,” he says bitterly. Ahmed Hosni, a worker, explains that sewage leaks through the rocks, dislodging them and causing them to come tumbling down on their homes.

Meanwhile, a man called Farid Abdel-Tawwab complains of the snakes and dangerous insects that have killed many people in this randomly built area. He too says that the rock falls are to be blamed on sewage leaks. El-Doweiqa forms part of Manshiyet Nasser, the biggest shanty town in Cairo and a big headache for successive governments. It occupies around 850 feddans of land and is home to 1.3 million people, who live in appalling conditions, deprived of clean water, adequate sewerage and even fresh air, due to the huge piles of garbage collected and sorted there by the garbage collectors from all over the capital.

At the end of the last century the Government started to replan Manshiyet Nasser, including el-Doweiqa and other districts. The dea was to replace the old, unplanned districts with new, modern ones. Germany and Abu Dhabi supported the ambitious project. However, no-one knows exactly when the development project will reach the Khazan area of el-Doweiqa and whether it will be in time to prevent another tragedy like that in el-Moqattam in 1992, when a huge rock crushed dozens of citizens to death.”

Thus, this two year old article appears to foresee the event that occurred this weekend. One wonders if the interviewees, and their families, survived. Tragic.