Death Under the Rubble in Egypt.. Shadows of Death Loom Over Occupants of Buildings at Risk of Collapse

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Jordan

Publishing organisation: Albawaba, Raseef22

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-01-13

Language: Arabic, English

Authors: Ibrahim Hilal


Ibrahim Helal is a data journalist and a senior editor at Medan AlJazeera website. He is also a data engineer at one of the hospitals in Alexandria. Helal graduated from the School of Engineering, Alexandria University. Later, he studied journalism and big data engineering. He is currently doing his masters in Social Sciences. Helal published more than 50 articles in philosophy, social sciences and history in Medan. He is a senior producer at O2 project, which is part of AJ+, and he is an enthusiast of the use of AI in journalism.

Project description:

500 Egyptians died under the rubble of their houses in the last 7 years. This took place with the continuous negligence of the Egyptian government in house maintenance, demolition of old buildings, and providing alternative housing.
While the Egyptian government spends billions of pounds on new housing projects, residents of looming buildings don’t find any houses to live in. This investigation documents 1000 incidents of collapsed buildings between the years 2014 and 2020, which have left 500 deaths, a third of which are children, and another third are women, according to the numbers published by Egyptian newspapers.

Impact reached:

Shedding light on the issue of looming buildings in Egypt, and linking that to the problem of old rental contracts helped increase the public awareness towards the problem, and that is considered to be a big impact of the investigation. At the government level, no government official responded to the problem. Neither the Alexandria Governor nor the engineers syndicate president responded to any of the journalist’s calls and interview requests. Buildings are still at the verge of collapse in all Egyptian governorates, while casualties and injuries continue to be on the rise.

Techniques/technologies used:

The journalist collected all numbers related to the building collapse accidents and casualties from the Egyptian newspapers archive in the period between 2014 and 2020. He then created a database on Excel, cleaned the data, and analyzed it on the same program. The journalist created an initial visualization on Excel to determine the major results of analyzing the data. He then used Flourish to design the data and visualize it. The journalist also used Datawrapper to design a map focusing on the average of building collapses for every 100 thousand citizens across the different governorates in Egypt.

Context about the project:

This investigation does not only expose a regular corruption case, but also negligence of human lives. This has been proved by the investigation: 500 died and 1000 injured over 7 years. This investigation puts this problem in the right context, which indicates how the government overlooked these buildings, and directed its funding to different unrelated projects. This has been proved through the stories told by residents of looming buildings, and the officials no-response to the journalists calls and interview requests. The most difficult part of the investigation was conducting interviews with the residents, especially in Al Dakheela area, in west Alexandria. This area saw the death of 8 people in 2021. Due to the pressing security situation and the difficult work environment faced by journalists in Egypt, the journalist had to be extra careful in shooting footage and pictures in the area. Otherwise, he would be captured by the security forces and charged with “spreading fake news”.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Journalists could learn the following from this investigation:
– The importance of shedding light on the problems faced by people, and this is the real role of journalism.
– How can journalists benefit from open source tools and technological advancements in their investigative reporting.
– The importance of taking into consideration the safety and security when working on an investigative report.

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