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New towns plan hasn't solved Cairo's population surge

Egypt is counting on the development of new towns, not only to relieve the explosive population pressure on its capital city of Cairo but on Alexandria as well.

More and more people from rural areas are streaming into the huge Cairo-Giza metropolitan area and are highly visible in their traditional clothes. Indeed, there are so many people on the streets that often the cars are able to move along only haltingly.

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The successful launching of these new towns, away from the urban centers, is the major problem facing the Egyptian Ministry of Development and New Communities.

"The most economical ways of constructing, servicing, and managing urban growth are what we are concerned with," asserts Jack Urner, principal planner of the Egyptian- American team organized by the New York engineering and architectural firm of Tippetts-Abbett-McCartley-Stratton, which is working with the Egyptian ministry on the problem.

It is the job of this team to find an affordable solution to the problem of living space for those many millions of people. The Egyptian population will have grown by 22 million to 25 million by the year 2000, according to the latest projections.

Unknown thousands are leading precarious lives as squatters in the already overextended cities, and especially in Cairo and Alexandria, the two largest.

while all services and infrastructure are being overhauled, including sewers, water supplies, and the intermittently functioning telephone system, it is clear that it is going to be increasingly difficult for the big cities to absorb more people.

To meet the problem, a master plan of new-town construction has been under way for several years.

Five major new towns are being projected outside the Cairo and Alexandria metropolitan regions, all located in the desert and away from arable land. Arable land is most precious in a country that has to import more and more basic foodstuffs to feeds its burgeioning population.

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The new communities are projected to accomodate some 5 million to 6 million people in the next 10 to 20 years.

Tenth of Ramadan, the name of one of the projected new towns, is located about helfway between Cairo and Ismailia. It is expected to have a population of 150,000 in 10 years and half a million by the year 2005.

The town is now under construction, with some housing already built and industries committed.

The open-door economic policy of the Sadat government is trying hard to attract foreign investors, channeling them to the planned new towns. How successful this policy will be remains to be seen.

Experience has shown -- in France, for example, which had done more than perhaps any other country to keep growth away from its capital -- that usually considerable incentives such as tax reductions are required to persuade industries to settle in new communities.

Tenth of Ramadan has, by now, a master plan, and the propectus for its commercial center soon will be ready for bids. The plans include its own industrial base, with investors and large developers invited from all over the world to participate in and develop different tracts of the projected town.

The development package has been prepared by the Ministry of Development and New Communities. A brochure shows a settlement plan whereby the city is organized into communities of 35,000 to 40,000 inhabitants, each of which is made up of eight neighborhoods of about 5,000 people. The neighborhoods are grouped around a community center and include shopping, a secondary school, recreation, clinic, and other services.

All the communities, in turn, are grouped around the town's commercial and cultural centers with educational and recreational facilities.

The other major towns under construction are New Ameriyah and Sadat City, the latter some 75 miles north of Cairo on the road to Alexandria. Sadat City is planned as a new industrial center, independent of Cairo or Alexandria. Location of new industrial plants is prohibited inside Cairo; thus, Sadat City offers an alternative.

To date, no industrial commitments have been made. Initial construction has begun, however.

The Sadat City prospectus sounds enticing, but apparently there are few takers. Half a million inhabitants in 25 years is the goal.

New Ameriyah, which is supposed to absorb the surplus population of Alexandria, so far has a master plan designed by an Egyptian firm, plus Dutch consultants, but nothing has been built as yet.

Unless investments are forthcoming for industrial development, the project will be delayed.

The other two new towns, New Damietta and King Khaled, are still in the first planning stage, with no population targets or development objectives yet established.

An Egyptian planning group is making studies for King Khaled City, to be located south of Cairo and west of the Nile.

The fourth annual conference of the International New Towns Association, held in Heliopolis-Greater Cairo last October, included a visit to one of the new towns, Tenth of Ramadan.

Hassa Ballah El Kafrawy, Egyptian minister of development, state housing, and land rehabilitation, asked the new- town experts for advice. Certainly, no other country has such far-reaching and ambitious new-town plans as Egypt. The minister said that the new-town policy is the result of "collected data and information which underline the importance of adopting this policy.

"Egypt is a country characterized by a high population growth rate despite birth control, which constitutes heavy and increasing burdens on the available economic resources."

Then he added: "Man represents an economic resource if provided the proper environment for growth and furnished with work opportunities."

This is the crux of the matter. But where or how such "work opportunities" will be created was not mentioned, nor was it discussed anyone else at the new-town conference.

"Egyptian cities have been centers of attraction for large numbers of people from the rural areas," the Egyptian minister asserted.

"Consequently, we should forge ahead toward the construction of modern houses in the new communities, as this helps the growth of these communities."

Where the immigrants would find jobs -- the prerequisite for moving into a new community -- he did not say.

At one of the meetings of the conference, planning in arid zones was discussed. This kind of planning is a new field and these is very little experience, the experts concluded.

The development of new towns all over the world, no matter what the political system or whether now or in the past, has followed the same basic facts. Where jobs are available, where oppotunities exist to make a good living, there people will go and a town will be built, no matter what the environment.

But without any economic activity, how can the people live?

Several new cities are being built as their country's new capitals, such as Brasilia in Brazil or Islamabad in Pakistan. Currently, Zambia, Malawi, and Nigeria are all building new capital cities.

One can only wonder about new-town planners who discuss the form, location, energy consumption, transportation, and housing, but ignore the most essential issues, the economic base of the new town. It appears that the planners have forgotten the reason why people move to a new town or go to another country and leave their home.

The reason is always the same -- the opportunity to earn a good living.

The reasons given for building new towns in Egypt are all very compelling, but without providing jobs and a strong economic base of new industrial development, who will go to live in the new town even if it is built?

Further, the country requires an overall evaluation, cost analysis, and examination of alternatives. In other words, it needs a coordinated national urban policy.

The Egyptian population now is 40 percent urban because there is not enough productive land. The whole population of Egypt lives on only 4 percent of the country's total land area -- mostly in the Nile Valley. The rest of the country is desert.

Planning and Development Collaborative International, a Washington, D.C., group, won a $1 million-plus contract, financed by the US Agency for Industrial Development, to develop such a coordinated urban and investment strategy for Egypt.

Alfred P. van Huyck, a principal of the planning and development collaborative and who is in charge of the Egyptian contract, describes the main objectives of the program, which began last July and is scheduled for completion at the end of the year:

"We have been asked to review all the studies, proposals, and projects, ongoing or planned, to examine how best to use the available resources, and to come up with some realistic assessments and options where and how to settle people and attract foreign investors to participate."

These investments are essential if the towns are to proceed as planned and to justify the investments of the Egyptian government. Egypt already has spent about $600 million on the infrastructure for Tenth of Ramadan City. New-town building is very expensive.

What are the most cost-effective alternatives? Most of all, what should be the priorities? All of this will be settled by the planning and development study, it is hoped.

Even if all the new towns reach their target populations and proceed according to what is planned, they can only take care of 6 million people by the year 2,000. The population growth of Egypt is projected at between 22 million and 25 million during the same period -- or four times as many as the new towns are expected to absorb.

Where will all these people go? Most of all, what will they ear? Where will the money come from to create the new jobs?

By September 1979 the US had obligated $4.3 billion to Egypt since 1974.Cairo has the largest AID mission in the world. American assistance is doing much to offset the support that used to come from the Arab countries. Some $220 million alone is sent to Egypt each year as the country is increasingly unable to feed itself.

When President Anwar al-Sadat tried in January 1977 to increase food prices -- all basic food is subsidized -- riots broke out all over Cairo until prices were restored.

The US taxpayer, meanwhile, is not only feeding an everlarger population, but is investing in more housing and new- town construction to the tune of many millions of dollars a year.

The taxpayer also is paying for the family-planning programs, mainly shaped by the AID population bureau's policies, designed by Dr. Ray Ravenholt -- programs that have utterly failed, as the demographers' statistics confirm.

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