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Bank filtration for water treatment and climate resilience: application, training, and awareness

Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey

We were coming back from Al-Qurna village at Luxor that is famous for “The Building of the Poor.” After I had drunk, I asked, “From where is this delicious water?” The local people pointed to the waters of the Nile. The Nile was turbid in an abnormal way due to the sweeping of silt to it from one of the rainstorms that hit our country repeatedly during the last decades. Thus, I asked if there was a nature-based solution to produce drinking water at a low cost, similar to the architecture of the poor. Bank filtration (BF) technology uses geologic materials and processes to remove most of the water pollutants. It accommodates both high turbidity and low water levels. I received funding for an applied project in cooperation with a German university and involving the drinking water companies. Initially, there was resistance to change by both water producers and consumers; we overcame it through both training and awareness raising. Other donors were attracted to train professionals and to implement. I have published articles in the "Al-Ahram" newspaper to raise awareness. Now, there is more interest to apply nature-based solutions to water problems that are compatible with climate resilience.

Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved

Our initiative has increased the interest of both water companies and local communities in nature-based solutions to water problems, climate resilience, and economic constraints and proved their feasibility. Our strategy has been based on ongoing concrete applied research to prove its technical and economic feasibility and on convincing both professionals and consumers via training and public awareness. Moreover, a concrete research proposal based on our idea has been prepared jointly with both water companies in Egypt and a German partner who has much experience with these solutions. In the beginning, we received funding from both German and Egyptian Governments, and after proving its successm other local and international donors supported the next steps including implementation, training, and awareness. The UN-Habitat program in Egypt financially supported the provision of clean water to poor villages via our developed technology. A series of workshops and conferences was devoted to local professionals to exchange experiences with international experts. These have been supported by both DAAD and GIZ. Meanwhile, German experts have delivered their experiences to Egyptian professionals. Continuous public awareness and the involvement of international donors, foreign universities, and companies have added a new dimension to convince other people who are not involved in water or climate work. The local authorities have supported our initiative due to its impact to deliver water services to deprived people at a low cost. The developed technology is environmentally green and increases climate resilience in terms of accommodation of both flash flood turbidity and low flow periods.

How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?

Our initiative is based on using nature-based solutions to water problems. Most of these problems in our region are due to climate change in terms of increasing frequency of flash floods occurrences and drought periods. Flash floods sweep dirt and silt from the vicinity into the river water and make it highly turbid (turbidity > 2000 NTU), while drought periods cause low flow in the river that decrease the water level at conventional plant intakes and increase the contaminant load in the water. The bank filtration technique overcomes these problems at a low cost. It is green since no chemicals are used and no waste is produced. It uses much less energy than the conventional techniques that are currently used. It has increased reliable access to water and alleviated flood and drought impact on water treatment and provision. It has improved climate resilience in the drinking water sector significantly.

What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?

Our initiative has influenced and improved the drinking water supply and water management system in Egypt. The decisions to use nature-based solutions for water problems were taken after a series of transparent and open discussions. We have held the first national forum and workshop entitled "Nature-based techniques (NBT) for water problems in Egypt" jointly with DAAD, UNESCO, and local water partners. Decision makers and local community leaders were also involved to introduce the change. Now, about ten water companies in Upper Egypt are using bank filtration techniques for drinking water supplies for villages, and one large-scale site has been implemented in Cairo. A new code for applying NBT in Egypt is currently being discussed and will be integrated into water legislation in Egypt. The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI) has finished the new water law and has sent it to the Egyptian Parliament for ratification. We have achieved consensus after much discussion, training, and public awareness. The presence of influential international organizations in our coalition has helped us to convince those who may have been negatively impacted. A feasibility study including cost-benefit analyses and a comparison with conventional techniques were done.

What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?

The challenges we faced were mainly due to both a lack of experience and knowledge of nature-based techniques, as well as a conflict of interest among water industry partners. In the beginning, one of the consultant firms told me that "your initiative does not provide even bare bread." It means our technology is low cost, and thus, the percentage allocated to the consultant from the total project cost is very low and is, thus, undeserving of their attention. The beneficiaries of the conventional techniques market have criticized our initiative. Experience and knowledge about NBT were absent among national consultants, water professionals, companies, and consumers. Moreover, there was a bad reputation for the provision of raw groundwater for drinking and poor acceptance by consumers for the change in water taste, who believe in chemicals and conventional technology. To overcome these challenges, we have focused on transferring the skills and knowledge to small consultant firms and water production professionals. This was done by organizing a series of professional workshops. Public awareness programs have focused on water consumers to explain the privileges of using natural and green technology to provide healthy and clean water to them. The public perception of the change was aesthetic.

In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?

Our initiative has generated the momentum to keep up the sustainability and interest of the water community. This is based on technical, economic, and environmental issues. Nowadays, there is an increasing request from water companies in Egypt to apply nature-based techniques (NBT), not only to provide drinking water but also to re-use wastewater effluents. Moreover, international donors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have invested in these techniques to provide drinking water to poor communities. This will keep up the momentum and interest of both local authorities and water industry partners. I trust that the changes we have achieved will endure because it is low cost and climate-resilient. Our initiative has involved training and education of water professionals; few employers have academic degrees (Ph.D. & MSc) in this field. The issue of the new code for NBT will alleviate the failure risk to keep momentum and interest.

What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?

We have learned that change is not an easy subject and needs different approaches and talents to achieve it. The analyses of the challenges and a full understanding of the stakeholders is key to planning a successful initiative. Teamwork from different disciplines and involvement of both stakeholders and partners from other fields facilitate the change. We failed in the begging, and instead of covering it up, we published it in an international journal: "Shortcomings of the RBF Pilot Site in Dishna, Egypt." We have learned from our shortcomings and improved the initiative. We received sound coverage from local media, thus national organizations participated and were inspired by it. UN-Habitat and Rotary Club have implemented NBT to provide clean water to poor communities in Egypt. We have learned from both German experiences (DAAD, Dresden University, and water companies) and the UNESCO Regional Office in Cairo.