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Egypt lies in the north-eastern corner of the African continent, with a total area of about 1 million km. It is bordered in the north by the Mediterranean Sea, in the east by Israel and the Red Sea, on the south by Sudan and in the west by Libya.

In 1993, the total cultivated land was estimated to be 3.24 million ha, or 3.2% of the total area. About 2.86 million ha, or 88 % of the total cultivated area, consisted of annual crops and 0.38 million ha consisted of permanent crops.

Total population is about 62.9 million (1995), of which 55% is rural, with annual demographic growth estimated at 2.1 %. Average population density is 63 inhabitants/km, but ranges from 2 inhabitants/km over 96% of the total area, to 1 492 inhabitants/km in the Nile Valley and Delta. This area, where population density is among the highest in the world, represents only 4% of the total area. In 1992, agriculture accounted for 17% of Egypt's GDP and provided employment to 38% of the labour force.



The mean annual rainfall is estimated at 18 mm. It ranges from 0 mm in the desert to 200 mm in the northern coastal region. In many districts rain may fall in large quantity only once in two or three years. During summer, temperatures are extremely high, reaching 38C to 43C with extremes of 49C in the southern and western deserts. The Mediterranean coast has cooler conditions with 32C as a maximum.

Surface water resources

The Nile river is the main source of water for Egypt. Under the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement between Egypt and Sudan, Egypt's share is 55.5 km/year. The 1959 Agreement was based on the average flow of the Nile during the 1900-1959 period, which was 84 km/year at Aswan. Average annual evaporation and other losses from the High Dam lake were estimated to be 10 km /year, leaving a net usable annual flow of 74 km/year, of which 18.5 km/year was allocated to Sudan and 55.5 km/year to Egypt. Internal surface water resources are estimated at 0.5 km/year. This brings the total (actual) surface water resources to 56.0 km/year.

TABLE 1 - Basic statistics and population

Physical areas:
Area of the country 1995 100 145 000 ha
Cultivable area 1993 - ha
Cultivated area 1993 3 246 000 ha
- annual crops 1993 2 862 960 ha
- permanent crops 1993 383 040 ha
Total population 1995 62 931 000 inhabitants
Population density 1995 63 inhab./km
Rural population 1995 55 %
Water supply coverage:
Urban population 1993 90 %
Rural population 1993 45 %

TABLE 2 - Water: sources and use

Renewable water resources:
Average precipitation   18 mm/yr
  18.1 km/yr
Internal renewable water resources   1.8 km/yr
Total (actual! renewable water resources 1995 58.3 km/yr
Dependency ratio 1995 96.9 %
Total (actual) renewable water resources per inhabitant 1995 926 m/yr
Total dam capacity 1992 169000 106 m
Water withdrawal:
- agricultural 1993 47 400 106m/yr
- domestic 1993 3 100 106m/yr
- industrial 1993 4 600 106m/yr
Total water withdrawal   55 100 106m/yr
per inhabitant 1993 913 m/yr
as % of total (actual) renewable water resources   94.5 %
Other water withdrawal 1993 1 800 106m/yr
Average groundwater depletion 1993 1 400 106m/yr
Wastewater - Non-conventional water sources:      
- produced wastewater 1993 3 430 106m/yr
- treated wastewater 1994 650 106m/yr
- reused treated wastewater 1993 200 106m/yr
Desalinated water 1990 25 106m/yr


Groundwater resources

The volume of groundwater entering the country from Libya is estimated at I km/year. Internal renewable groundwater resources are estimated at 1.3 km /year. This brings the total renewable groundwater resources to 2.3 km/year. The main source of internal recharge is percolation from irrigation water, and its quality depends mainly on the quality of the irrigation water. In the northern part of the Delta, groundwater becomes brackish to saline due to sea water intrusion. About half of the Delta contains brackish to saline groundwater. The Nubian Sandstone aquifer, located under the Western Desert and extending to Libya, Sudan and Chad, contains important non-renewable fresh groundwater resources, already developed in the oasis of the new valley. Large irrigation schemes pumping water from the Nubian aquifer are under development in the southwestern part of the country (Al Aweinat).

Agricultural drainage water, treated wastewater and desalinated water

In 1994, the quantity of agricultural drainage water flowing back into the Nile river and becoming available again for withdrawal downstream was estimated at 4 km/year.

In 1994, the treatment of domestic wastewater was estimated at 650 million m/year and in 1993 about 200 million m/year of treated wastewater was estimated to have been reused. The quantity of desalinated water was estimated at only 25 million m in 1990.

Water withdrawal

Table 4 shows the actual water availability and water use by the different sectors. Agricultural water withdrawal includes an annual estimated loss of 2 km/year due to evaporation from 31 000 km of canals (1 000 km of main canals and 30 000 km of secondary canals). Figure 1 shows the distribution of water withdrawal by sector in 1993.

TABLE 3 - Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential 1993 4 435 000 ha
1. Full or partial control irrigation: equipped area 1993 3 246 000 ha
- surface irrigation 1993 3 046 000 ha
- sprinkler irrigation 1993 117 000 ha
- micro-irrigation 1993 83 000 ha
% of area irrigated from groundwater 1993 4.5 %
% of area irrigated from surface water 1993 95.4 %
% of area irrigated from non-conventional sources 1993 0.1 %
% of equipped area actually irrigated 1993 100 %
2. Spate irrigation area   - ha
3. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms (i.v.b.)   - ha
Total irrigation (1 + 2 + 3) 1993 3 246 000 ha
- as % of cultivated area   100 %
4. Flood recession cropping area   - ha
Total water managed area (1 + 2 + 3 + 4) 1993 3 246 000 ha
- as % of cultivated area   100 %
- increase over last 10 years   - %
- power irrigated area as % of water managed area 1993 95 %
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 1993 14900000 tons
as % of total grain production 1993 100 %
Harvested crops under irrigation (full or partial control) 1993 5 378 940 ha
- permanent crops: total 1993 383 040 ha
- annual crops: total 1993 4 995 900 ha
. cereals (wheat, maize, rice, millet, barley) 1993 2 489 340 ha
. berseem (fodder crop) 1993 1 098 300 ha
. vegetables 19934.font> 408 240 ha
. cotton 1993 371 280 ha
. other annual crops 1993 628 740 ha
Drainage - Environment:
Drained area 1988 2 931 000 ha
as % of cultivated area   90 %
- drained areas in full or partial control irrigated areas 1988 2 931 000 ha
- drained areas in equipped wetland and i.v.b   - ha
- other drained areas   - ha
- total drained area with subsurface drains 1988 1 681 000 ha
- total drained area with surface drains 1988 1 250 000 ha
Flood-protected area   - ha
Area salinized by irrigation 1972 1 210000 ha
Population affected by water-borne diseases   - inhabitants


TABLE 4 - Water availability and water use in Egypt (1993)

WATER INPUT km/year WATER USE km/year
Surface water resources 56.0 Agriculture (incl. evaporation) 47.4
Renewable groundwater resources 2.3 Domestic 3.1
Agricultural drainage water 4.0 Industry 4.6
Reused treated wastewater 0.2 Navigation/regulation 1.8
Total water input 62.5 Total water use 56.9

It is estimated that by the year 2000 the total water use will approach 70 km/year, which is more than the actual water availability. The additional water is expected to be provided by: the construction of the Jonglei canal in the Sudd swamps in Sudan (2 km), non-renewable groundwater (2-2.5 km), increasing use of agricultural drainage water (2-2.5 km), an increase in treated wastewater (1 km), improved water management/irrigation efficiency (1 km).

Environmental issues

The likely challenges to the sustainability of water resources in Egypt include salinity, waterlogging, and the decline in fresh water as a result of the continuous discharge of usually untreated domestic and industrial wastewater into the Nile. Agricultural drainage water affects the salinity of the main river downstream and in the delta. The quality of water in the river decreases gradually towards the delta and the coastal plains. Also likely to aggravate pollution is the use of chemical fertilizers, which has increased fourfold in the last two decades, partly in response to the Aswan High Dam's reduction of the flow of silt downstream. The use of herbicides to control submerged weeds in canals and water hyacinths in drains (which, if uncleared, can choke irrigation systems), has caused serious environmental hazards.


Almost all agriculture in Egypt is irrigated. Even the small, more humid area along the Mediterranean coast requires supplementary irrigation to produce reasonable yields. The total water managed area is 3 246 000 ha, of which more than 90% is in the Nile Valley and Delta. Another 920 000 ha are planned to be reclaimed before the year 2000. Irrigation potential has been estimated at 4 435 000 ha. However, all future possibilities for irrigation will depend on the sharing of the Nile waters among the Nile basin countries.

All irrigation is full or partial control irrigation. Over 95% of the area is irrigated from the Nile water. In the provinces of Matrouh, Sinai and New Valley 146 000 ha are irrigated from groundwater. In 1993, an area of 4 200 ha was irrigated from treated wastewater (Figure 2).

The irrigation system in the old lands of the Nile Valley is a combined gravity and water lifting system. The main canal system (first level) takes its water from head regulators, located upstream of the Nile darns. Water is distributed along branches (second level) where the flow is continuous. At the third level, distributaries receive water according to a rotation schedule. Water is pumped from these to irrigate the fields (about 0.5-1.5 m of lift).

Figure 1 - Water withdrawal (total: 55.1 km in 1993)

Figure 2 - Origin of irrigation water f/p (total: 3246000 ha in 1993)

The irrigation system in the new lands (reclaimed areas) is based on a cascade of pumping stations from the main canal to the fields, with a total lift of up to 50 m. In the new reclaimed areas, farmers have to use sprinkler or drip irrigation. Surface irrigation techniques are banned by law. The main reason for this ban is that these areas, located at the end of the systems, are more subject to water shortages. In addition, most of the new reclaimed land is sandy soil. Sprinkler and drip irrigation need less water than surface irrigation. Sprinkler irrigation is practiced on 117 000 ha, and micro-irrigation on 83 000 ha (Figure 3).

An extensive National Drainage Programme has been carried out over the last 30 years to control waterlogging and salinity. The drainage system consists of open drains, subsurface drains and pumping stations. Of the total irrigated area, 2 931 000 ha (90%) are drained, of which 1 681 000 ha with subsurface drainage (Figure 4). The subsurface drained area represents nearly 52% of the total cultivated area and more than 74% of the cultivated land in the Valley and the Delta. There are 99 pump stations devoted to the pumping of drainage effluent. The power drained area was estimated at 1 100 000 ha in 1988. Drainage water from agricultural areas on both sides of the Nile Valley is returned to the Nile River in Upper Egypt and in the Southern Delta. Drainage water in the Delta is either pumped back into irrigation canals for reuse or pumped into the northern lakes or the Mediterranean.

In the Fayoum province, irrigation is practiced by gravity with no water lifting system. Drainage water is also directed by gravity into Wadi Rayan and the Qaroon lake.

Saline areas in the Nile Valley and Delta were estimated at 1 210 000 ha in 1972, due to sea water intrusion and a high water table. Soil salinity in Upper Egypt developed mainly after the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the conversion of flood irrigation into perennial irrigation. Most of the salt-affected agricultural land in the country has now been provided with drainage systems for leaching the excess salts.

The cropped area is almost 5.4 million ha, leading to an average cropping intensity of 165% (Figure 5). There are three cropping seasons in Egypt: Winter (November to May), Summer (April/May to October), and 'Nil)' (July/August to October). On the old lands, cropping intensities can be very high (200%), but on the new lands intensities reach only 150%, mainly because of water shortages and the lack of means of production in those areas. Most crops are grown both in the Delta and the Valley, with the exception of rice (Delta mainly) and sugar cane(Valley). The main winter crop is berseem (Trifolium alexandrinum), grown either over 3 months with 2 cuts as a soil improver (short berseem), or over 6-7 months, either with 4-5 cuts as a fodder crop or grazed by tethered cattle (long berseem). In addition to berseem, wheat is an important winter crop. Minor winter crops are, amongst others, pulses, barley and sugar beet. The main summer crops are maize, rice and cotton, the latter being the most important Egyptian export crop. Yields have continually increased during past decades, particularly on the old lands. In 1993, yields were 5.4 t/ha for wheat, 7.0 t/ha for maize, 7.7 t/ha for rice, and 1.2 t/ha for cotton.

Figure 3 - Irrigation techniques f/p (total: 3 246 000 ha in 1993)

Figure 4 - Types of drainage methods (total: 2931000 ha in 1993)

The average cost of irrigation development is about $US 1 600/ha for micro-irrigation, $US 1300/ha for mobile sprinkler irrigation, and $US 3 200/ha for stationary sprinkler irrigation.


The Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources (MPWWR) is in charge of water resources research, development and distribution, and undertakes the construction, operation and maintenance of the irrigation and drainage networks. At central level, the Planning Sector is responsible for data collection, processing and analysis for planning and monitoring investment projects. Water resources development works are coordinated by the Sector of Public Works and Water Resources. The Nile Water Sector is in charge of cooperation with Sudan and other Nilotic countries. The Irrigation Department provides technical guidance and monitoring of irrigation development, including dams. The Mechanical and Electrical Department is in charge of the construction and maintenance of pumping stations for irrigation and drainage.

Further to these institutions, other public authorities operate in direct relation to the MPWWR.

They are the High Aswan Dam Authority, responsible for dam operation; the Drainage Authority, responsible for the construction and maintenance of tile and open drains; and the Water Research Centre. The Water Research Centre comprises 12 institutes and is the scientific body of MPWWR for all aspects related to water resources management.

Figure 5 - Irrigated crops f/p (total: 5 378 940 ha in 1993)

The Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation (MALR) is in charge of agricultural research and extension, land reclamation and agricultural, fisheries and animal wealth development.


One important characteristic of Egyptian agriculture is land distribution. More than 95% of the landowners hold less than 2 ha each. Only 3 % own 20 ha or more.

It is planned to develop an additional 920 000 ha for agriculture by 2000. This will be achieved through further developing the country's surface water and groundwater resources, increasing drainage water and treated wastewater reuse, and improving irrigation efficiency.

Al Salam canal, now under construction, is planned for the reuse of drainage water from two main drains in the Eastern Delta. This water, added to water extracted from the Damietta branch of the Nile, will be used for the irrigation of a new area of 252 000 ha in the Eastern Delta and North Sinai. The total area planned to be developped for irrigation by different projects in the Sinai is estimated at 630 000 ha.

At present, Egypt and Sudan base their water development plans on the shares stipulated in the 1959 Nile water agreement between the two countries and on future conservation projects in the Sudd area in southern Sudan to increase the yield of the river. However, future developments in upstream countries will have to be taken into account from the point of view of present shares and any future increments that can become available from the conservation projects. In any case, the expansion of irrigation in the Nile basin in the years ahead will require basin-wide cooperation in the management of water resources to meet increasing demands and to face the associated environmental consequences.


Abu Zeid, Mahmoud A., Rady, M.A. 1992. Water resources management and policies in Egypt. In: Country experiences with water resources management: economic, technical and environmental issues. World Bank Technical Paper No. 175. Washington D.C.

ACSAD [Arab Centre for the Study of Arid Zones and Dry Lands]. 1988. Water Resources Assessment in the Arab Region. ACSAD, Damascus.

Attia, F.A.R. 1993. Environmentally sound management of Egyptian groundwater resources. In: [Proceedings of the] Seminar on Techniques of Groundwater Management in the Arab Region. 20-23 December 1993.

CAPMAS [Central Agency for Public Mobilization And Statistics]. 1994. Statistical yearbook, Arab Republic of Egypt.

CAPMAS. 1993. Crop Acreage and cultivated areas in the Arab Republic of Egypt.

Drainage Research Institute. 1989. Land Drainage in Egypt. Amer & de Ridder Editions.

Drainage Research Institute. 1989. Drainage water in the Nile Delta: Re-use monitoring programme. Report No. 32.

FAO. 1993. National action programme - Egypt. Rome.

MPWWR [Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources]. 1994. Irrigation and horizontal expansion sectors.

Nasser Ezzat, M. 1994. Water resources development. Country report: Egypt; prepared for the Nile 2002 Conference.

Othman, Y. 1994. Experiences in integrated land and water management. In: Proceedings of the ISAWIP Final Seminar. Port-Said, Egypt, 18-21 April 1994.

Public Authority for Drainage Projects, Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources. 1994. Nile Delta Drainage V Project. Project completion report.

Rofail, N., & Zabran, M.S. 1994. Available water resources in the Arab world and expected future demand. Paper prepared for the ACSAD preparatory expert meeting for the Arab Ministerial Conference on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development, Arab League Centre, Cairo, 25-29 September 1994.

Sarris, A.H. 1991. Structural adjustment and agricultural development in Egypt: Policies, prospectives and options.

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