Egyptian Women Find a Creative Solution to the Challenging Energy Problem

A female villager demonstrating how she uses the new energy source for cooking purposes.
A female villager demonstrating how she uses the new energy source for cooking purposes.

Finding cost-effective, renewable and sustainable alternative energy sources, beside the main available resources in Egypt; oil, natural gas and hydropower― has always been deemed as a failure and unmaintainable. Although, several projects were launched at some point of time with the aim of generating Bioenergy, precisely Biogas― a form of renewable energy derived and reproduced from organic waste― most of them came to an eventual halt. Yet, in 2009, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Egypt, in partnership with Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), designed the BioEnergy for Sustainable Rural Development (BSRD) project, turning animal waste into biogas.

The project’s creators involved the projects’ beneficiaries, by assessing their needs and the desired technical aspects. The project―which was originally launched to serve selected cities within Al Fayoum and Assiut governorates addressed two major problems that mainly faced females; the process of utilizing animal waste and the limited hectic usage of gas cylinders in households.

Highlights

  • In terms of animal waste, most of the women who inhabited the villages in both governorates had to endure the rather primitive process of collecting droppings for later usage, in form of land fertilizers.
  • 100 household gas units― 50 units per governorate― were created at zero cost.

In terms of animal waste, most of the women who inhabited the villages in both governorates had to endure the rather primitive process of collecting droppings for later usage, in form of land fertilizers. The other problem, revolved around the time consuming and costly procedure of purchasing gas cylinders for domestic usage; i.e. cooking, which in return left the women solely responsible for the purchasing of the cylinders. Not to mention that, most of these women are responsible for families consisting of 15-45 members and daily numerous house chores, which required extensive usage of several gas cylinders; 2-3 cylinders per months.

According to Amany Nakhla, UNDP Environment and Energy Programme Analyst, “female villagers were affected the most by the high rates of gas cylinders. They are also responsible for cleaning the manures in the stables. Now they do it willingly knowing there is great benefit behind the collection of the animal waste”

The project tackled the aforementioned concerns, by providing the women with specially designed canals, and by developing an eternal underground household gas units― expected to last for at least 20 years ―that develops the animal waste into biogas, by mixing it into water, and at the same time creating fertilizer from the waste overflow, and thus make the female villagers lead a comfortable life that is similar to those of the city dwellers.  

100 household gas units― 50 units per governorate― were created at zero cost with the aid of an Indian non-governmental organization (NGO), serving as an implementing vessel; starting from installation to providing the needed hardware and machinery, with the support of female villagers who were the first to embrace the idea of the project.

Female engineers also played a pivotal role in the project implementation, although the project first started with only untrained 4 engineers―including a single female engineer― and 4 workers, whom all later received training and in return trained newcomers. The presence of female engineers― now ranging from 6-7 out of 16 engineers― made it easier to access households and convince the women about the project potential, not to mention that they later utilized the learned technology for the sake of developing their own hometowns.

Engineer Mona Khodery, a fresh graduate from Luxor, is an excellent example about the involvement of women engineers in the field. Khodery had to convince her own family back in Luxor to undertake a 90 days training in Assiut, by explaining how that would contribute significantly to her career― due to the very limited number of female engineers in the field― and also to her hometown, after vowing to use her training to help her very own community in Luxor. Khodery now trains other engineers, works on filed in numerous governorates; including Luxor and Fayoum.

Neveen Mostafa, BSRD project officer, expressed her own sense of pride and achievement as she commented on the involvement of female engineers, “what is impressive is that women are now part of such work field. Not only have we managed to serve female beneficiaries via this project, but also we have female engineers on board.”

The National Council for Women (NCW) has also contributed massively to the project, by creating awareness campaigns, collecting applications from villagers and rallying all over the country to inform the people about the project.  

The project now is morphing into a national program that fosters numerous governorates, including Al Sharqiya, Al Daqahliya, Sohag, Luxor, Al Minya and Bani Suef, with over 430 installed household units. The project now takes care of 50 % of the expenses by providing the engineers’, experts’ and workers’ salaries, the installation and hardware fees and other technical appliances. On the other hand, the service recipients get to pay the other 50%, in the form of building materials expenses. Military factories also now manufacture the stoves, with built-in stoves, instead of the Indian NGO.

For the future, the project creators hope to capitalize on the current number of installed household gas units and to ultimately reach up to 600, build community gas units and utilize food waste/leftovers, in order to provide more aid for housewives, and generate more power and energy for other essential domestic machinery, such as water heaters.