Egyptian villagers purify their drinking water

Village water purification stations built to reduce waterborne diseases provide an existing solution for communities in Menoufia governorate in the fight against COVID-19

By Rawnaa Al-Masry

Cities in Egypt are fully covered by the water and sanitation networks, and in the villages the coverage rate reaches about 98%, but the quality of water remains under investigation.

The decrease in the quality of the water that reaches Egyptian villages caused an increase in the number of people infected with diseases such as kidney failure and hepatitis. The governorate of Menoufia, north of the capital, Cairo, has the highest infection rates.

The governorate depends on two main sources of drinking water: surface water from the Nile River and groundwater, according to the environmental survey issued in 2008 by the Environmental Affairs Agency in cooperation with the Menoufia Governorate. People living in the countryside, who make up most of the population, rely mainly on groundwater.

In recent years, attempts and initiatives to solve the problem of unclean water have included individual efforts using household water filters and community initiatives, as civil society associations and individuals established water purification stations within the various villages of the governorate. Villagers occupy 78% of the total population of the governorate.

Private companies usually install and operate drinking water purification plants in villages, often without being monitored by the Holding Company for Drinking Water and Wastewater.

In an attempt to learn about these experiences and their ability to maintain sustainability and water quality. SciDev.Net in partnership with InfoNile visited water purification stations in three different villages in the Shuhada Center in the governorate.

Ultraviolet rays to clean water

The village of Zawyat Al-Na’ura village runs two water purification stations that rely on ultraviolent rays to clean the water. Another water purification station was also under construction to serve the dialysis unit at Zawiyat Al-Na’ura Hospital, one of the COVID-19 quarantine hospitals in the governorate. These stations also serve a nearby village, Nadra. 

These stations rely on re-purification of treated drinking water from the government drinking water network. Water is subjected to the basic, recognized stages of purification, including the processes of removing impurities, sediments, turbidity and organic materials, in addition to removing salts and pathogens.

Osama Salam, an Egyptian water resource expert and director of groundwater projects at the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, said, “The water produced by the purification plants is clean, but it may be contaminated due to the ends of connections entering homes, or because of the different doses of chlorine that may cause harm to the consumer” [translated from Arabic].

Gezirat Al-Hajar village also has one desalination station, which uses the re-injection of chlorine solution along with reverse osmosis technology and filter membranes in the process of water purification. 

Salam said that sterilization using ultraviolet rays necessitates the use of water immediately after purification, while chlorine ensures that the water remains sterile for a longer period.

The ‘Sadat facility’ station differs from the two previous villages, where the people resorted to digging a well at a greater depth than the wells at lower depths, to ensure that its water is not contaminated with leakages from the sewage networks in those villages, according to the director of the water company supplier. 

The villages’ water purification stations have contributed to the delivery of clean water as a way to combat the spread of COVID-19 infection. People depend on the purified water to meet their daily needs of drinking, food and hygiene. 

In Gezirat Al-Hajar, the Sadat station also provided a tricycle to transport and deliver water to homes, in an effort to reduce people gathering and support social distancing measures that are crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

These stations are not often subjected to the control of the state departments, as people are increasingly concerned about the interference of drinking water authorities closing down such community-run stations. 

The statistics issued in 2019 by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics in Egypt recommended the necessity of coordination between the concerned government agencies and those civil stations to support their survival and continuity. The stations should be subject to periodic supervision to ensure the quality of their water and compliance with local specifications for drinking water quality, the report stated.

This InfoNile story was produced in partnership with Code for Africa with support from the Pulitzer Center and the National Geographic Society. It was originally published on Scidev.net.