First off-grid wastewater treatment unit in Bedouin village piloted
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First off-grid wastewater treatment unit in Bedouin village piloted

Solar-operated unit created at Arava Institute could bring public health benefits to the south of Israel as well as developing countries, where raw sewage kills 1.7 million yearly

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Clive Lipchin in front of a pilot off-grid sewage treatment unit in the Bedouin village of Umm Batin, near Beersheba in the Negev. (Courtesy, Arava Institute)
Clive Lipchin in front of a pilot off-grid sewage treatment unit in the Bedouin village of Umm Batin, near Beersheba in the Negev. (Courtesy, Arava Institute)

The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies on Sunday unveiled a pilot solar-operated sewage treatment unit that could one day help to boost public health, not only in Bedouin communities in Israel that are not connected to sewage networks but in many places throughout the developing world where raw sewage causes disease and death.

According to the United Nations, untreated sewage, which leaches into water sources and can cause diarrhea, infections and malnutrition, accounts for 1.7 million deaths annually, of which more than 90 percent are in developing countries and almost half are children.

The Arava Institute’s pilot is located in Umm Batin, a recognized village near the city of Beersheba in the Negev where residents use polluting cesspits because there is no sewage system.

Institute researchers installed a sewage system for one house that connects with toilets at one end and the treatment unit at the other.

The wastewater enters a septic tank from where it is pumped into a series of treatment containers where microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and algae remove the contaminants, leaving water that can be used for irrigation. The recycled water is similar in quality to that which flows through Israel’s distinctive purple irrigation pipes for use in agriculture and horticulture.

Clive Lipchin, who directs the institute’s Center for Transboundary Water Management, said that the aim was to scale up and treat as many homes as possible. “We want to do this neighborhood by neighborhood,” he told The Times of Israel. “We’re looking to see how we can cluster groups of houses and build a larger system. That will be the next phase.”

The project is the first of its kind in a Bedouin community in Israel and according to Lipchin, has some “unique patentable technologies” and advantages that could give the institute a comparative edge when it comes to marketing overseas.

“Most of the world lives like the Bedouin,” he said. “We definitely have plans to go beyond the Middle East.”

The system is remotely operated via a cellphone.

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