The July 14 collapse of an apartment building under construction which has so far killed at least a dozen people in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria is not the first time apparently shoddy building construction has had tragic consequences in Egypt’s second largest city.
Unfortunately, neither does it appear it will be the last, given the city’s tragic history of building collapses.
Few could forget the tragic loss of at least 23 lives when a 12-storey building collapsed in December, 2007 in the city’s suburb of Loran. In 2008, a further 12 people died as yet another block of flats collapsed and, as recently as December, 2010, seven people died and 10 more were wounded when a factory building collapsed during bad weather, with rain damage to the factory structure being blamed for the collapse.
The problems associated with shoddy constuction in the city – or, for that matter, in Egypt as a whole – are hardly a secret. The fact that many developers blatantly ignore building regulations is well-documented.
The 2007 collapse is a case in point. Prior to its collapse, the local government had ordered the building to be demolished since it had been built without permission 25 years earlier. That same building, originally consisting of seven stories, had five more added in the years leading up to its collapse, an all-too-common practice as building owners throughout Egypt often illegally add extra stories to buildings without permission and thus destabilise the buildings’ structures.
What is known about the most recent collapse is that the building was under construction when it fell, and that it wasn’t the collapse of the building itself but rather the subsequent collapse of three smaller adjacent buildings that were crushed when the under-construction building fell that led to the deaths.
While it is not known for certain at this stage whether or not the building was illegal, it is apparent that its construction was dodgy. According to a BBC report, neighbours, who in recent times say they had heard the sound of cracking from within the building, had previously complained that the construction quality of the building was poor and that its construction base had not been designed to take the number of storeys the building had reached.
Frighteningly, change in the Egyptian building scene is unlikely to occur immediately, if responses to earlier disasters are anything to go by.
While one would think there would be a tipping point after which residents stand up and demand decent building practices, the fact that some developers continue to so blatantly ignore requirements and basic safety standards is not likely to change simply because yet one more building has fallen.
Furthermore, with the current drama surrounding the country’s newly elected president and its parliament, building standards – at least at a national level – are hardly the first thing on lawmakers’ minds at the moment.
That’s a pity and a tragedy. No one should have to die simply because property developers can’t be bothered with safety regulations. At the very least, an example must be set: a thorough investigation should now take place, and if any illegal construction has occurred, those responsible should feel the full force of the law.
Egypt is not the only country to be affected by substandard and sometimes illegal construction that does not meet building requirements. Many countries, including Brazil, India and Qatar to name a few, have continued to be plagued by problems in this area.
That is no excuse. Egyptian building occupants deserve much better from their building industry.
They, regulatory authorities and if appropriate, the courts, should stand up and demand it.