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Poor drainage systems put villagers’ health at risk

Rural areas in the Nile Valley severely lack proper sewage systems and are contaminating Egypt's groundwater as a result. Sarah Kamshoshy/IRIN

Northern villages have been flooded, and houses submerged, due to poor drainage as well as rising ground-water level this month, locals said.

Shoubrabkhoum, a village in Menufiyya, for example, saw a rise in ground-water levels of 500cm caused by poor sanitary drainage. Drilling of the sanitary drainage station in the village has been taking place for three years but it will be at least another five years before it operates at full force, according to Gehane Khalifa, a resident.

Sanitary drainage is a sign of persistent poverty in rural Egypt. Despite policy changes by the government, including the decentralisation of essential services, peoples’ lives are still at risk, with diseases spreading because of poor sanitation.

“The level of sanitary drainage has been so bad, the houses have been threatened. People have been placing pieces of wood above the ground to be able to walk into their houses,” said Khaled Haggag from Menufiyya.

Families have complained, to no avail, to the local and city councils about the colonies of mosquitoes accumulating around the stagnant water.

Villagers protest

Khalifa said villagers protested on 4 September against the failing drainage coverage. According to her, the first completed phase of the three-year-old drilling operations did not service any of the houses in the village but rather those belonging to relatives and friends of te local council officials in the outskirts of the village. “There have been several complaints to the local council and the city council, but nothing has been done so far,” she said.

[Egypt] Many of Egypt's economic migrants come from rural areas where unemployment is high. [Date picture taken: 01/27/2006] 20063722
Photo: Issandr El Amrani/IRIN
Sanitary drainage is a sign of persistent poverty in rural Egypt
Instead, the villagers have tried to remove the accumulating water with special water removal trucks that costs 25EGP (US$4.50) per transfer, said a local.

Haggag said people tried to create random drainage systems, digging a hole in the grounds of their houses and linking their water sources to it with a set of pipelines, then removing the accumulating dirty water using buckets and donkey carts.

Soliman al-Alfy, editor of the local Voice of Menufiyya newspaper, told IRIN that the ground-water problem was directly linked to bad sanitary drainage coverage. “We know that Menufiyya has been part of the government plan to improve drainage systems across the country. But the problem is that sanitary drainage stations are costly and their digging takes a lot of time. Only one village in the governorate is covered at a time,” he said.

“Hence, some villages have working drainage stations and others are just swimming in stagnant water.”

Six months to solve issue

Maher Shendy, the head of the Quaissna Local Council, to which Shoubrabkoum is affiliated, told IRIN on 18 September that “The problem of Shoubrabkoum will be solved in six months. It is a promise. The money for its sanitary drainage system is there. The problem is elsewhere, where there is no budget made ready.”

Shendy further said: “People have to bear with us a little bit until the drilling of the station is over. It is normal. Some streets will be closed for a while, there will be some water problems, since people cannot stop using water until the station is finished, there will have to be some problems.

“The council is a representative of the people and is from the people. Every day I am in Shoubrabkoum, following up with the problem. We feel for the people and we are there to help them.”

Meanwhile, the malfunctioning sanitary drainage system is spreading diseases, according to Khalifa. Menufiyya has one of the highest levels of hepatitis in Egypt. Khalifa also said the inhabitants of Shoubrabkhoum, in particular, suffered from kidney failure.

The Nile Delta has generally been reported to have the highest prevalence of Hepatitis C, with 28 percent concentration of the disease as opposed to 9 percent in Cairo, according to the John Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawai’i.

Poor sanitary drainage also led to severe floods in mid-September in another village in northern Egypt, Gharbiyya, where several houses were submerged in feculent water.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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