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FEATURE STORY September 21, 2018

Better Sanitation Services Improving Lives and Livelihoods in Rural Egypt


Mostafa Kashef

Lack of access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation services has taken a toll on many parts of rural Egypt, impacting the health of the local population and the economy

"Two of my grandchildren are suffering from very serious health problems, as well as one of my brothers,” said Egyptian farmer Saeed Abdel Nabi Ali, “all due to the consumption of contaminated water.

Lack of access to clean drinking water and proper sanitation services has taken a toll on many parts of rural Egypt, impacting the health of the local population and the economy. Saeed, as the head of the Bahey El Deen Barakat farm in rural Dakahleya governorate, has firsthand experience of the consequences. “The contaminated waste water coming out of household pipes is dumped into the same canals that water the plants we eat,” he observed. 

Only 18% of households in rural Egypt are linked to public sewers, leaving 50 million people suffering from overflowing sewage from traditional septic tanks. The design of those tanks does not ensure efficient and safe handling of wastewater, they leak wastewater into soil as well as underground water and disposes the wastewater directly into water canals. This has negative economic and environmental impacts, as the contaminated irrigation water harms the quality of agricultural soil which is one of rural Egypt’s main income generators.

Studies also showed that only six percent of Egyptian villages are provided with wastewater treatment services. Children in rural households are 8.5 times more likely than those in urban areas to lack toilet facilities, and almost 10 percent of households in rural areas use toilet facilities shared among multiple households. 


A resident of Bahey El Deen Barakat farm in rural Dakahleya governorate is leading a cart carrying a waste water tank to a disposal point.

Mostafa Kashef

The Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities recognized that improving sanitation services for rural areas was a critical investment in the future health of the population and the region’s productivity. It was also a vital step in tackling poverty. In partnership with the Word Bank, a US$550 million Sustainable Rural Sanitation Program for Results was launched in 2015, with the aim of increasing access to and improving rural sanitation services in the governates of Beheira, Dakahliya and Sharkiya. Improved sanitation services will also reduce Nile water pollution caused by untreated sewage, accordingly shielding the health of all Egyptians from the harms of polluted drinking and irrigation water. 

‘’Our bodies have suffered from drinking contaminated water, and our muscles are aching from daily dragging the tanks to disposal points, a heavy burden on the shoulders of the village’s men and women,” said Al Saeed Abdel Aleem Abdel Nabi, another resident of the Bahey El Deen Barakat farm. "The damage done to our generation is irreversible, but we hope that this program gives our children the healthy life they deserve,’’ he added.

The program will protect the health of about 833,000 Egyptians through installing 167,000 household sanitation connections, which will secure efficient disposal of waste water. The connections will ensure that the water supply reaching program beneficiaries is not contaminated by waste water leaking from septic tanks.  

Additionally, the newly installed household sanitation connections will spare citizens the high cost of alternative methods for disposing of waste water.

The operation also shifts the sector towards a de-centralized model and puts the local Water and Sanitation Companies (WSCs) in charge of the construction, operation and maintenance of the household connections.

The Ministry agreed with the WSCs on an action plan and is releasing funds upon the completion of each set of required actions. Those actions will strengthen accountability and promote transparency within the water and sanitation sector.

The first 5,000 connections were completed in Dakahliya in February. ‘’I can finally cook for my family without fearing water contamination,’’ said Nahed El Sayed, a housewife and mother of four who lives in one of the households which received the first group of connections. ‘’I can now also finally do my daily housework - all simple activities that were denied to us before this program.” Nahed did her best to provide her family with clean drinking water, but she explained that “my efforts always failed, and a few months ago one of my sons caught a bacterial infection in his stomach because of the contaminated water.’’

‘’Everyone here suffered from the lack of sanitation services, we are very happy to finally have them,’’ said Essam Mohamed Al Gameel, Nahed’ s Husband. Essam’s brother in law had died from a stomach infection attributed to drinking contaminated water, and his mother’s skin is continuously bleeding due to an incurable chronic infection. “Finally, we will be spared the terrible odor we had to smell every single time we went outside ,” added Essam.

A strong citizen engagement plan ensured the involvement of the local community in the program’s planning. This outreach to and involvement of the community resulted in the voluntary donation of about 88 plots of land, solving the problem of acquiring the necessary land which is normally a major challenge in similar programs.

’’We gladly donated our land to save our families from the harm caused by the lack of sanitation connections,’’ said cousins Al Saeed and Abdel Naby Abdel Aleem. ‘’The WSC team approached us and explained how the operation will save our lives.  We met with the team more than 20 times to discuss implementation progress. The team’s commitment and consistency earned our trust, we believe that this program will put an end to our suffering,’’ they added.

 A grievance redress mechanism was designed to address local community complaints. Regular engagement with the community is ongoing, gathering input on program design aspects such as the selection of land plots for program facilities. The outreach efforts built local trust, making the local population feel that they are a part of the program team, and has contributed to the rapid implementation of the program which has already yielded significant results.  

The initial success of the program coupled with the importance of providing sanitation services to citizens within the government’s development agenda, led Egypt to embark on an additional financing for the program.

The additional financing - amounting to US$600 million and co-financed by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank -  was approved by the World Bank board of directors in September 2018. The program will provide about 892,000 Egyptians with clean water through extending new sanitation connections to 178,000 households in the governorates of Damietta, Gharbiya and Menoufiya.