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Algeria, with a total area of about 2.4 million km², is located in the north-western part of the African continent overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in the north. It is bordered by Tunisia and Libya to the east, Niger, Mali and Mauritania to the south and Morocco to the west.

TABLE 1 - Basic statistics and population

Physical areas:
Area of the country 1995 238 174 000 ha
Cultivable area 1995 10 742 000 ha
Cultivated area 1993 3 372 000 ha
- annual crops 1993 2 841 600 ha
- permanent crops 1993 530 400 ha
Total population 1995 27 939 000 inhabitants
Population density 1995 12 inhab./km²
Rural population 1995 44 %
Water supply coverage:
Urban population 1985 85 %
Rural population 1985 56 %

The country can be divided into three physiographic units:

The cultivable area is estimated at about 10.74 million ha, which is 3 % of the total area of the country. In 1993, the total area available for agriculture was estimated at about 8.10 million ha, of which 4.73 million ha, or almost 60%, were temporarily fallow. Of the remaining cultivated area of 3.37 million ha, 2.84 million ha consisted of annual crops and 0.53 million ha consisted of permanent crops. Agricultural development is concentrated in the northern part of the country, where the best soils are located and where the climatic conditions are more favourable.

The total population is about 15.6 million (1995), of which 44% is rural. The annual demographic growth rate is estimated at 3.2%. Agriculture employs 25% of the labour force and accounts for 9 to 13 % of GDP, depending on the year.



The climate varies from the desert type in the south to Mediterranean in the north. Average annual rainfall is about 68 mm, but varies from 0 mm in the southern desert up to 1 500 mm in the north-eastern coastal area around Skikda. However, even in this region the dry season lasts five months. Precipitation, which mainly occurs in winter and the beginning of spring, is very irregular with considerable variations from year to year.

TABLE 2 - Water: sources and use

Renewable water resources:
Average precipitation   68 mm/yr
  162.9 km³/yr
Internal renewable water resources   13.9 km³/yr
Total (actual) renewable water resources 1995 14.3 km³/yr
Dependency ratio 1995 2.8 %
Total (actual) renewable water resources per inhabitant 1995 512 m³/yr
Total dam capacity 1992 4 300 106
Water withdrawal:
- agricultural 1990 2 700 106 m³/yr
- domestic 1990 1 120 106 m³/yr
- industrial 1990 680 106 m³/yr
Total water withdrawal   4 500 106 m³/yr
per inhabitant 1990 180 m³/yr
as % of total (actual) renewable water resources   31.5 %
Other water withdrawal   - 106 m³/yr
Average groundwater depletion   - 106 m³/yr
Wastewater - Non-conventional water sources:
- produced wastewater 1985 660 106 m³/yr
- treated wastewater   - 106 m³/yr
- reused treated wastewater   - 106 m³/yr
Desalinated water 1990 64 106 m³/yr


Water resources

Internal renewable water resources are estimated at 13.9 km³/year. Incoming surface water has been estimated at 0.4 km³/year. of which 0.2 km³ from Morocco and 0.2 km³ from Tunisia. The water resources, that are potentially available for use in the northern part of the country and the high plateaux have been estimated at 8.1 km³/year, of which 6.5 km³ is surface water to be regulated by dams and 1.6 km³ is groundwater. The safe yield of fossil water in the Sahara varies between 2 and 5 km³/year according to different hypotheses. However, the extraction of this fossil water is expensive.

In 1992, 79 dams had been constructed or were under construction with a total dam capacity of 4.3 km³. The total capacity of dams for irrigation under the schemes of the Regional Offices (see below) was estimated at about 1 2 km .

In 1990, total water withdrawal was estimated at 4.5 km³, of which 60% for agricultural purposes (Figure l).

Figure 1 - Water withdrawal (total: 4.5 km³ in 1990)

TABLE 3 - Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential 1992 730 000 ha
1. Full or partial control irrigation: equipped area 1992 445500 ha
- surface irrigation   - ha
- sprinkler irrigation 1992 40 000 ha
- micro-irrigation   - ha
% of area irrigated from groundwater   - %
% of area irrigated from surface water   - %
% of area irrigated from non-conventional sources   - %
% of equipped area actually irrigated 1992 82.2 %
2. Spate irrigation area 1984 110 000 ha
3. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms (i.v.b.)   - ha
Total irrigation (1 +2+3) 1992 555 500 ha
- as % of cultivated area   16 %
4. Flood recession cropping area   - ha
Total water managed area (1 +2+3+4) 1992 555 500 ha
- as % of cultivated area   16 %
- increase over last 10 years   - %
- power irrigated area as % of water managed area   - %
Full or partial control irrigation schemes: Criteria
Large-scale schemes > - ha   - ha
Medium-scale schemes   - ha
Small-scale schemes < - ha   - ha
Total number of households in irrigation   -  
Irrigated crops:
Total irrigated grain production   - tons
as % of total grain production   - %
Harvested crops under irrigation (full or partial control)   - ha
- permanent crops: total 1986 145 000 ha
- annual crops: total   - ha
. vegetables 1986 95 000 ha
. fodder crops 1986 25 000 ha
. cereals 1986 8 000 ha
.   - ha
. other annual crops   - ha
Drainage - Environment:
Drained area   - ha
as % of cultivated area   - %
- drained areas in full or partial control irrigated areas   - ha
- drained areas in equipped wetland and i.v.b   - ha
- other drained areas   - ha
- total drained area with subsurface drains   - ha
- total drained area with surface drains   - ha
Flood-protected area   - ha
Area salinized by irrigation   - ha
Population affected by water-borne diseases   - inhabitants


Irrigation potential has been estimated at 1.24 million ha considering soil resources. If available water resources are also considered, this potential has been estimated at 730 000 ha; if only renewable water resources are considered, it has been estimated at about 510 000 ha. It should be noted that during the very dry period of the years 1980-90, the available water resources were far from sufficient to irrigate the area already equipped for full or partial control irrigation. Irrigation is now of fundamental importance in Algeria, not only for winter crops, but also for spring and summer crops.

In 1992, the total water managed area was estimated at 555 500 ha, of which 110 000 ha benefited from spate irrigation, while 445 500 ha were full or partial control irrigation schemes (Figure 2). The latter can be divided into 45 000 ha of oases located in the south of the country and 400 500 ha of schemes in the north of the country which are usually divided into 'large schemes' and 'small to medium schemes' (Figure 3).

There are 17 large schemes, the size of which varies between 2 200 and 22 500 ha, with a total area of 175 500 ha. They can be regrouped according to which authority is responsible.

The Saf Saf irrigation scheme, formerly linked to its Wilaya, has been incorporated in the OPIR of El Tarf in 1992, in which the scheme of Guelma, with a total area of 12 000 ha (under construction in 1993), will also be incorporated (this area has not yet been included in the above figures).

Figure 2 - Distribution of the water managed areas (total: 555 500 ha in 1992)

Figure 3 - Distribution of the f/p control irrigation schemes (total 445 500 ha in 1992)

Figure 4 - Distribution of the areas equipped by the regional and Wilaya Officer (total: 175 500 ha in 1 992)

Of the total equipped area of 96 300 ha of the OPIR and OPIW which is irrigated on a fairly regular basis, 62 560 ha are irrigated by surface irrigation techniques, while sprinkler irrigation is practiced on 33 740 ha (Figure 5).

In the large schemes (OPIR and OPIW), fruit trees are grown on about 31 000 ha, which represents only 17% of the equipped area but 74 % of the area actually irrigated in these schemes in 1991. Priority is given to fruit trees in periods of water shortage. Consequently, in order to avoid frequent restrictions in water distribution to the vegetable crops, many farmers have dug wells on the schemes themselves.

The average cost of irrigation development in the large schemes has been put at $US 11 000/ha for surface irrigation and $US 15 000/ha for sprinkler irrigation. Water charges, which in Algerian Dinar (DA) remained the same between 1985 and 1992, were DA 0.35/m³ ($US 0.046 in 1989, but only $US 0.015 in 1992). This amount does not cover operation and maintenance costs.

Figure 5 - Irrigation techniques in the OPI schemes (total: 96 300 ha in 1992)

Figure 6 - Origin of irrigation water in the small and medium schemes (total: 225 000 ha in 1992)

Figure 7 - Major irrigated crops f/p in 1984

The small and medium schemes covered 225 000 ha in 1992 and were irrigated from open wells, tubewells, small lakes in the hills formed by earth dams, or from small rivers from which water is diverted or pumped (Figure 6).

The major irrigated crops in the full or partial control irrigation schemes are vegetables, fruit trees and palm trees (Figure 7).


The following authorities are involved in the water sector:

At the central level, there are four departments:

The agencies, placed under the responsibility of MEL, are:

A water law was passed on 17 July 1992.


Water resources in Algeria are limited and need to be preserved. Special attention has to be paid to the siltation of the dams, which sometimes reaches worrying levels. The worst case is the Cheurfas dam where, according to some estimates, the siltation has reached 96%.

A close eye also needs to be kept on the quality of the soils. As far as the irrigated areas are concerned, soil salinization has worsened during the dry years of the 1980s and some soils are becoming sterile. On the other hand, the area needing drainage in the OPIR has been estimated at 61 000 ha.

One-third of the cultivated land in Algeria has a slope of more than 12.5%, which poses erosion and soil conservation problems.

At the beginning of the 1990s Algeria drew up an extensive programme of rehabilitation and extension for the existing schemes, which should bring the total area equipped and irrigated in the north of the country up to 500 000 ha by the year 2010.


FAO. 1992. Algérie: projet d'appui à ['irrigation (PAI). Rapport d'identification. FAO Investment Centre. Cooperation programme FAO/World Bank. Report No 4/92 CP-ALG 36. Rome.

Pérennes, J.J. 1993. L'eau et les hommes au Maghreb: Contribution à une politique de l'eau en Méditerranée. Karthala. CNRS.

World Bank. 1988. Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria: Irrigation Engineering Project. Washington DC.

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