Egyptian Villages Suffer From Water Pollution

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The Egyptian village of Qalioub al-Balad has suffered from severe water pollution over the past three years. The water in the village has a putrid smell and is contaminated with impurities. To help tackle this issue, a resident of the village installed a private water treatment station, which he called 'The Popular Filter'.
This project is facing a crackdown from the local authorities, which have given monopoly on exploiting water resources to a private corporation.
Qalioub al-Balad is located in Qalioubiya, one of the three provinces of the Greater Cairo region.


Various of Qalioub al-Balad residents buying water from mobile water tank

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Ahmed Nasser, Qalioub al-Balad Resident
01:40 – 02:16

“The water that comes from the tap is yellow. It used to be clean and filtered but now sometimes it comes out yellow. If you fill a glass with tap water you will see how unclean it is. We buy water, even though it is expensive, but it is better than tap water which causes kidney failure.”

Various of water distribution in the town

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Mohamad Sabri, water distributor

“Before work, we clean the water hose then fill it and distribute water. We go out on a tricycle to distribute water. Each area has a specific day.” “Sometimes the Ministry of Supply inspectors come across me. I was fined before, and the only reason was that I was distributing water. The inspector took my name and started a problem. There is lawsuit still being pursued at court.” “The problem with the water is not only how it looks; some people say to me ‘I swear that I am disgusted to use the water for prayer. If it is used for cooking, the food will have a very bad smell. This is causing problems at homes.” Close-up of man filling glass with tap water
Various of Mohamad Sabri selling filtered water in the street
Various/ Close-up of plastic containers being filled with filtered water
Medium of Hasan Shaarawi, a Qalioub al-Balad resident, filling glass with tap water

SOUNDBITE (Man, Arabic) Hasan Shaarawi, a resident of Qalioub al-Balad
04:46 – 04:50

“Half of the water is black and the lower half has impurities.”

Medium of Hasan Shaarawi comparing tap water and filtered water

SOUNDBITE (Man, Arabic) Hasan Shaarawi, a resident of Qalioub al-Balad
04:58 – 05:56

“The water that the municipality is providing for us cannot be used. It is black and has a lot of a high amount of impurities. A while ago, I met someone from a company that sells water filters. They install filters and maintain them for a year. He tested the filtered water that I buy as well as the tap water. He said that the water that the municipality provides cannot be used for animals, let alone humans.” “I buy drinking water for 20 pounds a week, which we use for drinking and cooking. We use the water provided by the municipality for cleaning. The [price of tap water] went up. It is provided by private holding company. A household uses about 70 pounds worth of tap water every two months, but we do not drink it.”

Various of man distributing water

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Woman) Amal Mohammad, Resident of Qalioub al-Balad
06:02 – 06:11
“We were suffering from microbes, urinary infections and [kidney] aches because we used to drink tap water. We were told that this was because of the water. This is why we buy water. We do not drink tap water.”

Various of people buying filtered water

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Woman) Safaa Hussein, Resident of Qalioub al-Balad
06:12 – 06:27

“The problem with water is that is not clean. Some people have had diseases and kidney stones in the bile because of the water pollution. Doctors have said that the water is not clean.”

Various of Mohamad Sabri setting up tricycle motorbike and going into water treatment station

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Ahmad Shubrawi, the founder the Popular Filter
06:38 – 07:09

"This tank contains regular water. This [filter] is made of pebbles, and this one from carbon. The sand and pebbles removes impurities and carbon is needed to treat the salts in the water – this is for the excess salts in the water. These two filters provide additional cleaning. Water is then exposed to something called ultraviolet’ or ‘UV’, which is the last phase that water goes through to be treated from bacteria."

Various of water treatment plant

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Ahmad Shubrawi, the founder the Popular Filter
07:16 – 10:09

“Many people have complained how the water smells and tastes, until we started this project, with the help of God. We asked how to filter water. Some people cannot afford to buy small filters to use them at home, which is why we started this water treatment station. The problem is that the government refused to give us a license. How will I be able to get a license? Can I say to the government: ‘Your water is not clean, therefore I will clean it and sell it?’” “We brought an engineer who is specialised in building water treatment facilities. We first analysed the water to know what is needed to purify it. We analysed the water provided by the government at a laboratory called Burj al-Arab to figure out the equipment or substances that we need – whether the water has excess iron or bacteria; any substances that are present in excessive amounts. Based on that, we started this treatment and we have working for three years.” “This project is a substitute for government [services]. We are relieving the government. If we shut down, people will not stay quiet. People have found an alternative. When we asked for a license the government refused to grant it to us. From time to time, the Ministry of Supply inspectors fine us because we do not have any license. You know that we do not have a license. They just file random report against us for not having a license. You should give us a permit.” “The water that we sell is more affordable to people than buying a filter. Filters that perform seven-step purification have a short life and their maintenance is costly. A filter costs about 1,500 to 1,600 pounds if it has a good quality. If you buy water from me…in the summer, a family of four to five members would use about three jerry cans a week. Each jerry costs four pounds, so this is a total of 12 pounds. Four pounds include home delivery, but if a customer picks it up from here, it could cost 2.5 pounds. Not all customers come here because it would cost them the same as the price that includes the delivery charge. A family of four to five members would buy water for 12 pounds a week – multiplied by four, that would be 48 pounds, let us say 50 pounds per month and 600 pounds per year. A home filter costs 1,500 pounds and would last for two years even if it was maintained. The motor could be burned and the pipes could be clogged. This is why people prefer to buy [filtered] water.”

Various of water treatment facility
Various of The Qalioubiya water company headquarters
Various of Mustafa Mujahid, Head of the Qalioubia water company

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Mustafa Mujahid, Head of the Qaliyoubia water company
11:09 – 13:33

“[Private] water treatment companies are spreading information among people that the water provided by the Qalioubiya Potable Water and Sewage Company is not good. The water that they are using could be our own purified water. They are making a profit from this. They are pushing people to be suspicious of the water quality. I can confirm before you and to all citizens in Qalioubiya that the water we produce does not suffer from the slightest problem. The problem we are facing is the lack of water, which is affecting citizens. The building of water stations is still ongoing in order to cover the large population’s needs. The recent transgressions have also had a negative role.
Conditions specify that in order to obtain a license for a private station, the authorities that provide related services need to be consulted. The authorities in this case are the water company. Some people have started to cooperate with us and followed the law. On the other hand, we shut many businesses down and some people work illegally and do not consult with us at all.
As I told you at the beginning, these stations are only installed in deprived areas, where water is not potable. People have installed manual water pumps, which extract water from our own network. If you analyse the water that is being extracted by these pumps you will find that it is pure and conforms to standards. People extract water illicitly from the grid in order to avoid paying fees. Water is being stolen on a large scale.”