Mohamed Abul Azm finished irrigating his rice field with a pump placed on the bank of a four-meter canal in Abis village, Alexandria. But there was a bad smell coming out of the water. “Because this is sewage,” he said “The sewage station has been dumping in the canal for 15 years.”
The Nile water protection law prohibits the dumping of solid, liquid or gaseous waste from sewage into waterways.
“The land does not yield any more,” says Ibrahim, a farmer. “People have built houses on it to rent or sell. And the sewage of those buildings is also dumped into the canal.”
Building on arable land is prohibited by law and punishable with fines or imprisonment.
But Khaled Shaaban, a researcher at the Land, Water and Environment Research Institute, says treated or untreated wastewater can be used for irrigation. “It is good for the soil, provided that it is tested for toxic and biological elements and salinity and heavy elements are measured,” he says.
Farmer Rabie Hammad says his brothers died from schistosomiasis and hepatitis, probably from eating food that was irrigated with sewage. “Now my wife is infected too and can no longer help me with the farming,” he says. “I think I am next.”
Dr. Hisham Ayoub, a consultant for liver and gastrointestinal diseases, says dealing directly with sewage can infect farmers with schistosomiasis, anemia and fasciola.
Dermatologist Dr. Reham Abdel Salam says farmers can get chronic eczema from regular exposure.
Dr. Mostafa Mourad of the Institute of Public Health at the University of Alexandria says eating watercress, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes and cucumbers that were irrigated with sewage is risky because they accumulate fungi and bacteria.
Mahmoud al-Sayed was fishing in the canal. “I used to fish colorful fish,” he says. “Now they are all black and filthy.”
“We did not receive complaints about this,” said Abdel Raouf Allam of the Agrarian Reform Department, while Ali Abdel Hafiz of the Irrigation Ministry’s Alexandria branch said the Abis village is not under his jurisdiction. “It is the responsibility of the Beheira branch,” he said.
Ibrahim al-Hayes of the Beheira branch said he is on vacation and does not want to be disturbed.
Mostafa al-Bakhshawan, the undersecretary of the Agriculture Ministry, promised to investigate the matter.
Inside the sewage station
The station was built in 2000 on 1,000 square meters and was supposed to treat 12,000 cubic meters a day, servicing more than 42,000 inhabitants. The floor in the entrance is covered with green algae from the sewage. A large pipe is coming out of it through which the waste is dumped in the canal. Strangely enough, the station stopped treating the water two months after it was operational.
Ashraf and Osama, former station workers, say they were fired because they had requested the management address corruption concerns within the company as well as investigate why work has been suspended for so many years.
Osama says the station cannot work for more than 10 minutes. “The vibrations threaten to collapse the building and the adjacent houses,” he says. “They operate it only if there is an inspection from the ministry.”
Foul odors and stifling humidity come out of the walls and rusty staircase that leads to the well where the pumps are placed. “See for yourselves,” says Ashraf, removing the cobwebs on the staircase.
Yousry Henry Azer, chairman of the Alexandria Sewage Company, did not deny that the station discharges water in the village canal, but said it was a temporary problem due to technical flaws. “Don’t forget that the farmers themselves dig holes in the main pipeline to take treated water,” he said. “We don’t have enough funds to secure it,” he said. “But the problem of the station will be solved once the pipeline is secured.”
“We are studying the possibility of building a small water treatment station until the problem is solved,” he added.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm