January 30, 2009 / 1:53 PM / 10 years ago

Angola's decrepit buildings raise safety concerns

LUANDA (Reuters Life!) - A famous Angolan novelist once wrote about a curse that was causing buildings in the capital to fall down one by one, baffling its politicians and engineers.

Children play on the streets of Angola's capital Luanda in this file photo from July 2, 2006.REUTERS/Wayne Conradie

The story by Pepetela was fiction, of course, but some fear it may well turn out to be true if authorities fail to restore or remove scores of buildings across Luanda that remain unfinished or in a poor state of repair.

Last year, a police headquarters building in downtown Luanda crumbled, killing 30 people inside. Now, thousands of residents of buildings referred to as “Shake Shake,” “Dirty Marcal” or the “Lake Building” fear they could be next.

“I want out,” said Eurico, 15, as he rushed from his doorless apartment on the ground floor of the 17-storey Lake Building, which is located on Luanda’s main Kinaxixe square and has a natural underground spring beneath it.

“We are sitting on a lake. That’s what makes living in this building so dangerous,” Eliseu Laurindo, who represents all 700 residents of the Lake Building, told Reuters.

Like many old buildings in Luanda, the Lake Building has no windows, running water, or even terrace walls to keep residents from falling into the mix of spring water and sewage around it.

The building even has a rusty 120 meter tall crane attached to one side, which was left behind by the builders when Angola’s civil war broke out in 1975.

The almost three-decade-long civil war prompted millions of Angolans from the countryside to flee to Luanda in search of shelter and protection — boosting the number of residents in a city built for 500,000 to over five million.

The result is a massive housing shortage that has pushed real estate prices to record highs in Luanda where one-bedroom apartments can easily cost $7,000 a month in what has become the world’s most expensive city for foreigners.

That means ordinary Angolans in Luanda, home to one third of the population, often have no option than to squat in derelict buildings in the city center or live in squalid shanty towns around the capital.

In 2002, Angolan authorities said the Lake Building and others were in an advanced state of decay but nothing has yet been done to renovate these buildings. Authorities say they are still working to fix the situation.

“Some of the buildings in Luanda are in a state of advanced decay and we are doing all we can to either repair them or move the residents out as soon as possible,” Rosa Micolo, director of housing for the province of Luanda, told Reuters.

Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has promised to build a million new homes for the poor at a cost of $50 billion during the next four years, but some analysts fear the global economic slowdown could further delay the move.

The government, which in December forecast the economy in 2009 to grow 11.8 percent, has said it could revise these estimates in the face of the global economic slowdown that has pushed oil prices down more than $100 since reaching a high of $147 in July.

Angola is dependent on oil for 90 percent of its income.

“Where else can we go,” asked Elsa, 27, as she walked outside the Lake Building. “We have no money to pay for rent and the government has yet to find new homes for us.”

Editing by Michael Georgy and Paul Casciato

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