Helping rural communities in Egypt improve sanitation systems

Local ownership and environmentally sustainable technology are keys to the success of Sameh Seif Ghaly’s Together Association

Sameh Seif Ghaly, an Egyptian social entrepreneur who is the co-founder of the Together Association for Development and Environment visited Synergos’ New York City office to discuss his foundation’s work in the deployment of liquid waste and used-water-treatment technology.

Poor water sanitation is a critical environmental issue in communities in rural Egypt, where about half the rural population, or 47 million people, do not have access to improved sewage systems. Most villages in Upper Egypt contain untreated sewage water that flows directly into holes in the ground, leaching into ground water used for drinking and agriculture. As a result, many residents suffer from water-borne diseases.

To solve this problem, the Together Association has built 15 sanitation systems for villages in Upper Egypt, serving 32,700 residents in total.

The system is a good model for rural Egyptian communities because it improves public health, sustains the environment, and boosts community participation. Each system costs about $1,600 a month including supplies, or between $30 and $40 per capita. All of the houses in the community are connected to the lifting station and operating fees are collected from each community after the project’s completion. In fact, the low fees - just a few dollars a month - are part of what makes the system so attractive to users.

Each treatment plant is equipped with an anaerobic bacteria treatment chamber, an aerated weir, an air injection tank, and a gravel bed that is planted with local cane treating organic matter. The organic matter has naturally-generated anaerobic bacteria which feeds filtered water into a gravity-fed sequence of three shallow ponds for solar treatment. Both biogas and solid by-products generated from waste treatment are used to make organic fertilizer, which reduces each community's use of chemical fertilizers.

Ghaly’s system is divided into four phases:

  1. Awareness and Community Engagement:
    • Explain project mission and benefits
    • Motivate entire community to contribute in-kind service or cash payments to establish the system
    • Form committee of community members and train them to raise local awareness and monitor progress
  2. Construction:
    • Engage experienced engineering consultants to prepare tender documents and explain work needed to build assembly system and pump station
    • Employ supervising engineer to monitor implementation of the construction
  3. Operation and Maintenance:
    • Survey village street layout and number of homes to select sites for lift stations and treatment plant.
    • Train selected group of local youth to join plant operation and maintenance crew
    • Determine ownership model and agree on monthly operating fees, in preparation of system operation
  4. Sustainability Options:
    • Establish a local Community Development Association to collect fees, operate and maintain the system
    • Turn the system over to the local government company for water and sanitation, to operate and maintain with a fee levied on the water bill of each participating home (The preferred choice is that of the local NGO for greater direct involvement and the community’s sense of ownership. )

Ghaly explained that his model gives many benefits to the community, including overall improved public health and a 70% reduction in water-borne disease, an increase in available water for farmland irrigation, the creation of a basic infrastructure which enhances community life, lower installation and operating costs than government-proposed systems, employment for residents who build and maintain the facilities, and the creation of 17 community development agencies. Ghaly stated that community contribution and commitment is essential to the sustainability of infrastructure projects.