Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1263, (17 - 30 September 2015)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1263, (17 - 30 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Together we can

Can village-level wastewater treatment stations help end pollution in the countryside, asks Mai Samih

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Most houses in the Egyptian countryside use the conventional method of storing sewage in underground containers. This has led to the pollution of neighbouring lakes, streams, and the River Nile with untreated sewage.

 In an attempt to demonstrate a solution to this problem, Beit Al-Sinary organised a seminar on a new method to treat sewage water used in the Upper Egyptian area of Sohag by the Together Association for Development and the Environment (TADE).

“In the past, villagers used to use ‘oriental’ toilets composed of a pottery container for waste that could later be used for fertiliser,” said Sameh Seif, the association’s director. “But today this is less and less the case, and in the Delta in particular the underground water has become contaminated with sewage.”

“Wastewater stored in underground containers there must be pumped out on a regular basis, but there are still some 4,600 larger villages in Egypt and some 55,000 smaller ones without a decent sanitary system. This comes to around 90 per cent of the total, with the rest using the sewerage systems of neighbouring towns and cities.”

“All this adds up to a major problem of wastewater management in the countryside, and even in the cities, notably in Cairo districts like Al-Sharbeya and Al-Darb Al-Ahmar, the streets may be too narrow to install sanitary pipes without making neighbouring houses collapse,” he said.

In response to this problem, the Together Association built a pilot project in Sohag that recycles sewage with the help of local villagers. As Seif explained, “The initiative began in 2008, two years after the establishment of our NGO, when most Egyptian villages were using the traditional underground containers for sewage storage which leak most of the time and are expensive to pump out.”

“So we conducted a study looking at 35 different sanitary systems and started a first station project in the Al-Fashn district of the Upper Egyptian governorate of Beni Suef in a village named Ezbet Al-Sheikh Yacoub,” he said.

Some of Egypt’s poorest people live in this area, according to the UNDP’s Human Development Report, making it an ideal place for a pilot project. Said Seif, “As most of the village’s homes are made of wood we rebuilt them in three years with the help of the EFG Hermes Foundation, and as well as a sanitary system we helped to provide the inhabitants with job opportunities.”

“Our idea was to construct a small sanitary treatment station that would cost the government millions if it was bigger and served the whole governorate. We decided to construct the station for the village alone, seeing how much this would cost, with a view to scaling up the project elsewhere if it was successful.”

 The project was planned by engineers from the NGO. “When we decided to start building the plant, our main problem was that we could not find a suitable piece of land. The villagers also could not help fund the project. We asked the government for help, and it helped us find a piece of land of 1,200 square metres, meaning that we could build a bigger plant serving two or three villages,” he added.

“The plant cost less than LE2 million, or some LE350 per person. It treats 400 cubic metres of waste water per day,” Seif said. The project was undertaken in collaboration with the private sector and serves 10,000 villagers. Since its completion, TADE has worked on similar projects in Minya and Fayoum, as well as in other countries including Tunisia, Kenya and Guatemala.

“The project started with a visit from a delegation from the Japanese Embassy in Cairo that was in charge of cleaning the water of the Nile and other rivers of the rubbish and sewage being poured into them. They asked us about the condition of the water in our village, and we said it was poor,” explained Said Al-Sharqawy, chair of TADE in Fayoum.

“Then, working with TADE, they initiated the project, eventually building a sanitary system that can serve 1,400 houses. Earlier, we used underground containers to store waste, this later being dumped into the Qaroun Lake. This of course caused a lot of pollution, but with the new plant we no longer have the same problem.”

 Ahmed Allam who was in charge of the project in Beni Suef. said;“We always wanted to build a sanitary treatment station, but it was only when we met with TADE members and the EFG Hermes Foundation that we found the funding and the technical help that would allow us to build it.”

“They were also in charge of rebuilding houses built of mud bricks. Earlier, we didn’t have such a sanitary system — some of us had no toilets at all — and water would flood houses and cause disease. Now, we have hot and cold tap water, and waste water is drained outside the village without sanitary risks.”

According to TADE, the components of the project include regression lines in the streets of the village, expulsion lines connecting the lifting station to the treatment plant, a lifting station, a corresponding assembly room that functions as a place to collect the drainage from the pumping station, and a treatment plant where the waste is collected, processed and later used in agricultural irrigation. The system is appropriate for rural areas and informal housing areas, the association says.

“We treat sewage that comes from homes,” said Seif. “The idea of the plant is that it uses natural components to purify the sewage water, unlike the government’s high-technology plants where artificial components are used. For example, we filter the water using papyrus leaves and warak al-ghab, a kind of paper made from vegetable fibre. Then we separate the light waste [the sewage water] from the heavy waste [other types of waste], starting what is called the aero treatment of the light waste, which is then drained out of the station.”

As for the other types of waste, this is then filtered in non-air basins and left to dry. Farmers are shown how to make high-quality fertiliser by mixing the purified heavy waste with animal waste and plant waste. A biogas lab set up with the help of a German aid organisation provides homes with biogas and now covers five homes in the village.

“We plan to get a compressor soon to enable people to take some of the gas home in cylinders,” Seif said.

TADE is planning to extend the idea with the help of the government. “Some months ago we had a meeting with the minister of housing and agreed we would build similar plants in the new villages the president has announced using a half-billion dollar grant from the World Bank,” Seif said.

“A main concern in the meantime is ensuring that the project receives full local support and ownership. This is why we have trained the villagers to understand the system so that they can take charge of it, monitor it and maintain it.”

He continued, “Something similar was done in a previous project in a village in Fayoum called Beni Shoeitan, in the Sanouris district. Each villager was required to pay LE5 to LE10 per month, according to his financial status, for the maintenance of the plant. Any project, even a governmental one, can deteriorate if it is not properly maintained. People have to feel that a project is theirs so they can take care of it.”

However, there is still a need for proper monitoring, seen as a role for government. According to Seif, the ministries of housing and the environment should monitor the payment of monthly subscriptions to ensure that they continue to provide full services. Local government officials should be trained to give them a more effective role, he adds.

“It is easy to find the funding for a project, but who will maintain it after it is built? It is up to government-formed committees to monitor these projects,” he said. Seif also welcomes anyone who would like to replicate such projects elsewhere, saying, “We have put the design of the plant on our website, so anyone is welcome to recreate it.”

In collaboration with the government and other NGOs, TADE is also responsible for projects aimed at developing rural communities in Egypt and assisting young people.

These include the Nile Conservation Project (2007), which helped develop the Sheikh Yacoub village and supported the safe disposal of agricultural waste; the Preserve Water Resources Project, which raised awareness of the wise management of water among school students; the Needs Identification Project, which identified the needs of the poorest villages in Egypt, with some 1,000 villages participating (2009 and 2011, respectively); and the My Village Project (2009), which looked at lending opportunities in rural areas.

Projects raising the capabilities of graduates of technical schools, to provide job opportunities and increase incomes, were carried out in 2010-2011, and a Better Future for Youth Project was carried out in Beni Suef in 2010-2012.

“The United Nations Regional Office has promised us a grant of LE250,000, which we will use to provide the villages of Ezbet Raheel, suffering from underground water problems, and Ezbet Abdel-Qawy with sanitary services,” said Al-Sharqawy.

“A government committee has visited the project and will manage an extension to the Youssef Al-Seddik district and sewage stations in the villages of Noqrani, Al-Waaq and Al-Dawada under the supervision of TADE.”

“The more the plant works, the more maintenance it needs, and this costs a lot of money, more than we collect from the villagers,” said Allam. “Sometimes we have to fix it ourselves, and the last time we hired someone it cost us LE700, so inevitably we need government support in this field.”

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