Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Construction: Hard Manual Labor in Egypt

Anyone that has been to Hurghada knows as well as I know that the town is constantly expanding and growing. As more people move to the city, more buildings are put up to accommodate the swelling population. This often means that old villas are knocked down to make room for apartment buildings in their stead.

One of the reasons K and I chose where we live is due to the fact that the majority of the buildings surrounding us are already complete. I for one do not want to feel that I live in a construction zone. Next door to us stood the frame of an apartment building that has been standing for 25 years.

As tourism in Egypt begins to rise again, construction in Hurghada has gone back into full swing. However, a law passed last year by the government banned any further sale of land in the Hurghada area, meaning that if you planned to construct a new apartment building, you were required to do so on pre-purchased land. A typical sight throughout Egypt is the frame of a building, or a partially completed building with steel beams and wires protruding from the top. There are a few reasons behind this. First and most obviously, the owner of the building ran out of funding, and was forced to halt construction until more funds became available. Secondly, the apartment is often bought by a family who has given birth to a son, and left empty until such time that the son grows up and himself marries, at which point construction on the apartment will be completed and the son and new bride will move in. Thirdly, leaving the building to appear under construction is a tax write off and thus saves the owner a great deal of money.

The credit crunch in Egypt lately has left a lot of building owners struggling to cover the over-head costs of property ownership. A convenient trade has sprung up as a result of this, namely the trade in steel construction parts and concrete. Such is the case for the building next to us, and lead me to witness construction in Egypt as I never really had before.

The CAT was the only 'heavy machinery' used in the
entire process
Now, the "building" next to us was no more than a frame. This frame is held together by steel rods and concrete blocks which themselves constitute a huge over-head cost of any construction project. Gaining access to the steel beams requires knocking the frame down. This was lesson number one; watching the frame of an apartment being knocked down, and wondering why, until I learned that rather than let the frame sit stagnant the owner could make a profit off of it and sell off the construction parts.

The first piece of machinery to be brought in was a Caterpillar demolition tool. Resembling an enormous spike, hydraulic arms cause rapid pumping of the demolition arm, enabling it to easily break through rocks and cement to get at the steel underneath. Remarkable is that this was the only piece of heavy machinery used in the entire process. The Caterpillar was individually owned, and the owner informed us that he should have the building down in 2 days. [Lesson learned: When it comes to construction in Egypt, if they tell you 2 days, interpret that to mean 2 weeks. 2 weeks of non-stop noise starting at 8 am in the morning left us less than happy campers, but I digress].

The next step was the extraction of the steel beams from inside the concrete blocks. The CAT would break the concrete beams into bricks that were about 1 foot in diameter. Then the hard manual labour takes over.

You can see the steel rods protruding from the blocks
Egyptian construction workers use a mallet to repeatedly strike at the brick to remove the steel frame. Rotten steel is tossed away, and steel that can be re-used is set to the side for the next step in the process.

A little further away from the construction site are what appear to be wooden beams erected into the sand. These beams are in fact going to be used to straighten out the crooked steel beams in order for them to be used in the next construction site. Working with this wooden beam, a worker takes the steel rods and with a small hammer bangs the rod out straight. Using no more than a wooden beam and a hammer, gradually a pile of straightened steel rods grow on the side.

2 workers work to straighten out the 'tangle' of steel rods
next to them. On the ground you can
see the straightened ones.

Once the CAT has brought the building down, the workers begin to sift through the rubble to pull out the extra rods of steel that may have been missed. This alone took almost two days. Once the area was cleared, the CAT was brought back in, with a new tool attached, and began the process of loading up dump trucks with the rubble to be transported for processing.

Sifting through the rubble for stray steel rods.
Overall it was an exceptionally eye-opening experience in how the construction process works in Egypt. I should add however, I have to question how many of the 'new' buildings around the area are in fact constructed using old materials...and if these materials are ever put through safety tests to ensure that they are fit to use again. I probably shouldn't bother asking, as I know what the answer would be :p


  1. Really tough conditions for construction industry in Hurghada(Egypt) due to some strict government rule's .

    Hydraulic Installation Kits

    Bruce Hammerson