Egypt is revolutionizing the nation’s water delivery and mitigating the effects of climate change with innovative green technology and state-of-the-art sludge conversion plants. The result has been reduced carbon emissions, renewable energy, effective anti-pollution measures and improved livelihoods.

The Gabel El-Asfar wastewater treatment plant and the Abu Rawash plant have received $58 million and $150 million for expansion and upgrading respectively, from the African Development Bank, which is funding waste-to-wealth schemes and green technologies across Africa in a bid to mitigate a potential water crisis on the continent earth scientists have described as the second driest.

The Gabel El-Asfar plant is the first of its kind and largest such facility in the Middle East and Africa region, and one of the largest worldwide. The plant is already boosting livelihoods, improving the environment, quality of life and health of millions of residents.

“After the completed expansion of the plant in 2018, Gabel El-Asfar is treating 2.5 million cubic meters of wastewater every day,” says Malinne Blomberg, the Bank’s Country Manager for Egypt. “The facility is directly serving 12.5 million inhabitants of Greater Cairo, and downstream users along the eastern Nile River within the plant’s catchment area.”

The plant is a major component of the government’s central wastewater treatment scheme in Cairo. Designed to biologically-treat sewage water, it ensures compliant disposal of treated water, improving the environmental and public health conditions in the area.

According to Blomberg, the project also prevents pollution along the Gabel El-Asfar Drain, the Bahr El Baqar drainage system all the way to Lake Manzala, in the north east of the Nile Delta, where the water ends up. She observed that the sludge produced from treating wastewater is no longer perceived as a waste product, but as a valuable resource for energy and agriculture.

“At Gabel El-Asfar, the application of anaerobic digestion with energy stabilizes the sewage sludge, which both cuts costs and mitigates the environmental impact,” said Yasser Elwan, Senior Water and Irrigation Engineer for the project. “This pioneering eco-friendly technology means at least 60% of the plant’s electricity needs are being met by biogases produced by the sludge rather than fossil fuels, cutting both electricity costs and CO2 emissions, thereby enhancing financial sustainability,” Elwan said.

The digested sludge is also recycled and used to help reclaim land from the desert for planting wood trees. More than 1,800 newly planted trees and medicinal plants at the site of the plant are watered using effluent from the plant.

“The partnership between the African Development Bank and the Arab Republic of Egypt improved the social, environmental and financial sustainability of Gabel Al-Asfar wastewater treatment plant, integrating the sludge reutilization for energy production and implementing high environmental and social safeguards,” Blomberg says.

As the science and technology of wastewater treatment systems and processes become more advanced, there is a growing acceptance in Africa – and globally – of the idea that recovered wastewater is fit for human consumption. The African Development Bank was an early adopter of this idea.

Bank investment in Egypt’s water and sanitation sector is expected to grow. Potential recipients of Bank support include a new sludge treatment facility, ongoing expansion of the Abu Rawash and Gabal Al-Asfar plants, and an appraisal of a rural wastewater and sanitation scheme in Upper Egypt.

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