Cairo, Al-Yasmine district: ecology not for everyone

Cairo, Al-Yasmine district: ecology not for everyone

Expert Reports  

How many people live in Cairo?

Even the Sphinx, which, according to Greek legend, liked difficult riddles, could not answer this question. It is believed that now, 22 million people permanently live in Cairo (almost a fifth of the country’s population), and about 30 million are daily in the city if to take into account the visitors from other parts of the country. In some areas, there are more than 100 thousand people per square kilometre. According to statistics, the population of the today’s Egyptian capital is increasing by half a million annually. But some estimates, the Cairo’s population will be 40 million by 2035, which means far more than a half-million increase in its population each year.

Accordingly, Cairo has all the evils of a giant metropolis such as lack of housing, heavy traffic and, of course, big environmental problems due to air pollution, lack of green areas and a huge amount of garbage. Instead of long and tedious process to solve the problems of a huge city, the Egyptian government decided to follow Alexander the Great and cut this Gordian knot. They decided to move the capital to a new location; not far, into the desert east of Cairo, towards the Suez Canal. The new city where at least 6 million people will live does not have a name yet, it is called the New Administrative Capital, or NAC for short. NAC is conceived as a grand scale project, like the construction of the pyramids. For example, a Chinese company is now building the highest building in Africa, Iconic Tower (385 metres high), and in the future, it is planned to build another miracle, the Obelisk skyscraper (of course, they will look like the ancient Egyptian obelisks), which will outperform the current Dubai “champion” Burj Khalifa.

Constructing in a big way - as the pyramid builders did

A lot has already been done: the parliament building with a 50-metre dome is built, as well as the complex of the Department of Defense called the “Octagon” consisting of ten octagonal buildings standing in a circle, each of which is smaller than the Pentagon, but the total area is larger than that of its American counterpart; the Coptic Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ (perhaps, the largest non-Catholic church in the world) and the huge al-Fattah al-Alim Mosque for 17,000 believers. An Embassy Quarter is planned for more than 100 embassies, an amusement park 4 times the size of Disneyland, and so on.

The question arises, who will live in the new city with an area of ​​135 square kilometres, the cost of construction of the first stage of which is $45 billion? The final figures are 60 billion and 700 square kilometres. Do not rush to say that they will be rich Cairenes, seeking to improve their quality of life. Because rich and influential Cairenes have purchased their houses in an ecologically favourable place long ago and prefer to live in the villas surrounded by green trees and flowers. In Cairo, the areas of such villas have already appeared long ago, their owners are unlikely to prefer to live in new districts with 20 skyscrapers and numerous offices. Even if the creators promise a huge 35-km long park.... Not only in Egypt the people know how reliable such developers’ promises are.

Living your dream

Back in the 1920s, wealthy people chose the Maadi Quarter on the banks of the Nile River south of Cairo. Today, they go away from the hustle and bustle of the cities to the isolated places. It is noteworthy that the areas of private houses of wealthy people occupy a good, one might say, strategic place between the current Cairo and the future new capital. A fair number of such districts have already been built such as Qatameya Heights, Stella, Al Rehab, Madinaty, Gharb El Golf, Shouyfat, Al Narges, Al-Yasmine, Al-Banafseg, Family City, and others. Just have a walk in any of these districts and you will understand that the people live a cozy life in this area (unlike most Cairo residents), away from the crazy highways going across the entire city, sometimes at the level of the second-third floors of houses; there are no huge crowds of people scurrying back and forth. For example, it is interesting to visit the Al-Yasmine area.

Like other similar areas, Al-Yasmine is divided into clearly planned squares of small blocks, in the centre of each, there is a small green park lined with trees and shrubs. Villas are located around the green areas. The villas are also surrounded by green trees, bushes, and there are a lot of flowers. Of course, the beauty of the villas and the splendor of the garden depend on the wallet and the taste of the owner: there are no “standard design” buildings in this area at all! You can have a long walk through the quiet streets admiring the amazing architecture of some villas, and balconies decorated with intricate patterns. Tourists usually do not see these areas, and talking about Cairo they say it is an interesting city, but too noisy, dusty and bustling. The tourists are not welcomed in these places. There are no barriers at the entrance, but a guard sits everywhere in the shade of a palm tree. True, in some places in quiet clusters of rich villas there are hotels. They look like villas. Not to disturb the peace and quiet, no signs are on them. In Al Yasmine, for example, there is the Travelholic hotel. But it is useless to ask the locals about it. For them, this is Villa 220. There are only a few rooms in the hotel, of course, there is no restaurant or cafe, food can be ordered at the reception and is brought from the nearest restaurant, which is a couple of kilometres away. Because in a decent neighborhood, the environment should be clean, and cafes, restaurants, they think that shops are sources of noise and garbage, so there are no shops, no cafes or restaurants, no bank branches such areas. This is a place for a quiet, healthy life. There is only a school, but they need it. Perhaps, this is the ideal life in a “green” city of the future, if... if only this would be the way everyone could enjoy.

Where is the water from?

When you see such splendor in the desert, the question arises: where does so much water come from? The Nile River is still the main source of fresh water in Egypt, it provides at least 90% of all renewable water resources in the country. However, there are at least 40 cities upstream of the Nile besides Cairo, which also consume water. Sudan and other African states constantly increase their water intake from the great river. And recently, a serious threat has come from Ethiopia that is building a large dam on the main tributary - the Blue Nile. In addition to the Nile water, Egypt has four groundwater aquifers. But in Cairo, for example, groundwater sources provide less than 10% of the required water resources. The Egyptian government is struggling to keep up with population growth and rapid development of new areas, while facing two main problems like limited water resources and poverty.

The Cairo and Alexandria Potable Water Organization (CAPWO) is responsible for the operation and development of the infrastructure in the country’s two largest cities. Water tariff in the country is among the lowest in the world, and despite this, a huge number of bills are not paid. After the “Arab Spring” events, the government does not dare to raise tariffs and massively punish the non-payers. Therefore, the deficit is compensated by the government subsidies.

In some disadvantaged and slum areas, many residents do not have access to water, and most get their water from tanker trucks or at the water supply points. Indeed, in such places, residents usually are not the owners of the land where they live and therefore, cannot legally connect to the water supply network. Due to the lack of water, part of the residents of the Egyptian capital are supplied with water irregularly, they adapt to this by storing water in domestic containers. According to some studies, about 20% of Cairenes have problems getting an uninterrupted water supply.

Pipes going to the east

But judging by the lush green surroundings, the people do not know about such problems in the Al-Yasmine District and other similar ones. Not least because wallets allow them to pay for water on time. Of all the funds that are invested in water supply in Egypt, Cairo receives half of them. And most of the pipes go east from the capital - to the new fashionable areas, and they also go to the new capital now (still unnamed).

One of the largest projects being carried out by Spanish Acciona Aqua involves pumping 500 million cubic metres of the Nile water daily over a distance of 40 kilometres in this direction. So, there will be enough water for the elite areas. And those Cairenes whose wallets are thinner, can live in the districts of multi-apartment buildings being constructed in the same desert, but they cannot enjoy a green beautiful environment. And, in fact, everyone cannot be equally rich, otherwise, there will be no workers to plant new trees and flowers and take care of those already planted in the oases of ecological well-being.