On an unpaved road in the middle of El-Sayeda village in Egypt’s northern Delta governorate of Beheira, a tuk tuk (auto rickshaw) driver in his early thirties tries to avoid areas flooded as a result of the heavy rains witnessed in the province last week.
“Our farmland has been flooded with water as sewage banks could not absorb the rainfall. It might take a lot of time to recover,” driver El-Shaht Abdel-Maqsod told Ahram Online.
“Many people left the village as their houses were engulfed by water,” he said. “What is even worse is the state of our farmland, which is our main source of income.”
The condition of the village is bleak as it is abandoned by residents, many of whom sold their livestock after being unable to feed them due to the loss of crops.
El-Sayeda is not the only village to face such dire circumstances in Egypt’s second largest governorate. According to official records, 27,000 fedans in Beheira were damaged and approximately 20 people were killed in the recent flooding. Beheira’s governor announced last week the closure of 3,000 schools due to the flooding.
On Sunday, it was announced that President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi was allocating one billion Egyptian pounds from the ‘Tahya Masr’ (long live Egypt) presidential fund and another billion pounds from the public budget to help solve the problem of flooding in the coastal city of Alexandria and Beheira governorate.
Residents of El-Sayeda are criticising the state for failing to properly address the situation, while some state officials are blaming each other for the handling of the crisis.
Village resident Salah Ghobashi, 49, says that part of the problem is the water drainage system situation, which involves issues such as the illegal construction of buildings around water canals.
Ghobashi says that these illegal buildings are blocking two of the three main water canals in the area, which caused the remaining canal to overflow during the heavy rains, flooding nearby homes and farmland.
The state has proved that it has no strategy in facing the crisis,” said Ghobashi, a middle-class employee.
“The governor himself came here and said that the whole situation needs radical solutions that he cannot provide alone. Government officials told us that we would be paid LE2,000 for each feddan of damaged farmland, but this is not enough because more flooding is expected before the end of the winter season.”
“We need the military and the police to intervene in order to remove those unlicensed buildings,” he said, adding that the government should establish a proper water drainage system.
Wahdan El-Sayed, the official spokesperson for Beheira governorate, told Ahram Online that the allocated rate of compensations is fair.
“The average rent for a fedan for agricultural purposes is LE4,000, and the harvest process happens around two times a year, which means every six months, so the compensation amount is enough to buy the chemicals needed for the recovery process,” El-Sayed said.
El Sayed added that the state is currently working on removing the water from the El-Sayeda village area. However, he says that Idku Lake, where all the sewage from Beheira villages passes, is also facing the problem of unlicensed buildings erected along its shores, significantly decreasing the flow of water.
“We are now doing our best to end the crisis, but the responsibility is not ours alone, as the irrigation ministry is also responsible for checking sewage stations and canals, but they were not cooperating with us before the crisis took place,” he said.
“They [the irrigation ministry] had told us not to worry because there were no heavy rains in the previous four years,” El-Sayed said. “We also asked security officials to remove the illegal buildings, but they told us it was not the time as they were busy with anti-terrorism operations. But now they have no option but to remove them.”
Three weeks ago, another Beheira village, Afoun, saw the death of eight people due to flooding, prompting the prime minister to order an evacuation of the entire village.
“All of Afoun’s residents are currently living in state-owned housing as a new village is being built for them through donations by businessmen,” El Sayed said.
“The crisis that struck Afoun was due to residents illegally building their homes on steeply sloped land,” he said.