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Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


The first official institution in charge of irrigation, the Department of Publics Works, was established in 1836. Its name was then changed various times to Ministry of Public Works (1914), Ministry of Irrigation (1964), Ministry of Irrigation and Land Reclamation (1977), Ministry of Irrigation (1978), Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources (1987) and finally Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI) in 1999.

Currently, MWRI is in charge of water resources research, development and distribution, and undertakes the construction, operation and maintenance (O&M) of the irrigation and drainage networks. Specifications and permits for groundwater well drilling are also the responsibility of MWRI. Within MWRI, the following sectors and departments are of importance:

  • The Nile Water Sector: in charge of cooperation with Sudan and other Nilotic countries.
  • The Irrigation Department: provides technical guidance and monitoring of irrigation development, including dams and comprises 6 sections: irrigation; horizontal expansion and projects; grand barrages; groundwater; Nile protection; irrigation improvement.
  • The Planning Sector: responsible at central level for data collection, processing and analysis for planning and monitoring investment projects.
  • The Water Resources and Irrigation Sector in Lower/Upper Egypt
  • The Water Resources, Irrigation and National Structure Sector in North Sinai
  • The Mechanical and Electrical Department: in charge of the construction and maintenance of pumping stations for irrigation and drainage.

Further to the above institutions, other public authorities are directly related to MWRI:

  • Egyptian Public Authority for High Dam and Aswan Dam is responsible for dam operation.
  • Egyptian Public Authority for Drainage Projects (EPADP) is responsible for the construction and maintenance of tile and open drains.
  • National Water Research Centre (NWRC) comprises 12 institutes and is the scientific body of MWRI for all aspects related to water resources management.
  • Water Quality Management Unity
  • Institutional Reform Unit

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. The Agricultural Research Center comprises 16 institutes, 11 central laboratories, the Regional Center for Food and Feed, and the National Gene Bank. They are considered to be the scientific body of MALR for all aspects related to agricultural development. The Land Development Authority is in charge of contracting and monitoring land development projects and manages land allocation to investors and individuals. The Agricultural Development and Credit Bank provides credit to farmers to finance various production requirements.

The new Ministry of Water and Wastewater Utilities (MWWU), created in 2012, took over its functions from the Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities that had previously been in charge of the sector. The Ministry covers the whole sector of drinking water and wastewater. The following institutions report to the MWWU:

  • Egyptian Water and Wastewater Regulatory Agency (EWRA)
  • Holding Company for Water and Wastewater (HCWW) and its 23 affiliated companies
  • National Organization for Potable Water and Sanitary Drainage (NOPWASD)
  • Construction Authority for Potable Water and Wastewater (CAPW) (EU, 2012)

The Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs (MSEA) and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) under its jurisdiction mostly concentrate on the quality aspect of water.

The National Water Council (NWC) ensures inter-ministerial coordination by integrating policies and activities at national and local level, and it is assisted by a technical secretariat and Water & Environment units in the different Ministries and organisations. At governorate level, a Regional Management Committee (RMC) includes all stakeholders and is chaired by the local MWRI responsible (MWRI, 2005).

Water management

At regional level, the 22 Irrigation directorates and 22 Drainage directorates, each divided into 62 inspectorates and about 206 districts of 20 to 60 000 feddan (40 to 100 000 farmers) were replaced by “Integrated Water Management Districts” (IWMD) in 2009. Integration of irrigation, drainage and groundwater was tested with 4 pilots sites established in 2001 and 2003. Based on these, 8 General Directorates for Water Resources & Irrigation and 45 Integrated Water Management Districts (IWMD) were established and are fully operational (USAID, 2011).

Water Users Associations (WUAs) exist in parts of the country and operate at mesqa (tertiary) level where farmers on one mesqa select a representative to the association, which meets regularly with the district irrigation engineer to determine the major reports that need to be made. The association is also responsible for organization regular mesqa maintenance and resolving conflicts. Other organization units used in the management of irrigation follow the hierarchical canal classification (Table 6). Upscaling of the WUAs to higher level, in particular to the secondary level with the Branch canal through Branch Canal water Boards formed with mesqa representatives, is projected but still at pilot test scale (MWRI, 2005). Only 53 boards were established in 2002, in particular in the Fayyum and Nile Delta areas (USAID, 2011).

Irrigation water distribution into the irrigation network is managed by the MWRI and its local representatives (Gersfelt, 2007). Water flow is continuous up to the branch canal (second level). At the mesqa or third level, distributaries receive water according to a rotation schedule. Water is pumped from the distributaries to irrigate fields (lift: about 0.5-1.5 m).


Investment especially in land reclamation and irrigation improvement, O&M, as well as rehabilitation costs of irrigation and drainage infrastructures are traditionally financed by MWRI, only the pumping costs from the mesqa to the field are paid by farmers. However, in Toshka mega project (see prospect section for more details), proposed water charges combine area and volumetric based charges (MWRI, 2005).

Within the land reclamation programme, the government’s investments target irrigation and drainage infrastructure, settlement construction, and provision of potable water, electricity and roads. Very little is invested in social services (education and health), and no investment is made in the provision of agricultural services (technology, water management and rural finance). Consequently, poor settlers face difficulties in settling and farming, and a considerable percentage move back to the old lands and abandon their new land farms.

Policies and legislation

The legal basis for irrigation and drainage is set in Law No. 12/1984 and distinguishes public property of the irrigation and drainage infrastructures from canals and private banks, defines water distribution and O&M costs, and protects irrigation infrastructures, navigation and beaches. The Law’s implementation regulation adds details about groundwater, wastewater and water-lifting machines. Its supplementary Law No. 213/1994 designs farmer participation through WUAs and defines the benefits and costs of irrigation systems by the WUAs. Decrees of the MWRI and its ancestors No. 2/1989, No. 14867/1991, No. 72/1993, No. 14900/1995 and No. 402/1996 complete this legislation (MWRI, 2015).

Regarding environmental protection, and in particular water contamination, Law No. 48/1982 intends to protect the Nile water from sewage pollution, together with the executive regulations No. 92/2013 of the MWRI. More generally, environmental Law No. 4/1994, as amended by Law No. 9/2009, and its executive regulation are the main legislation governing environmental protection in Egypt (AfDB, 2015).

Water policies, regularly introduced from 1928 onwards, were mostly water development policies. The 1928 water policy fixed the limit of horizontal expansion at 3 million ha, which was attained by 2000. The 1933 water policy corresponds to water storage expansion of the Nile river within and outside Egypt for the country’s benefit, including: i) the 2nd increase in height of the Aswan Dam (up to a storage capacity of 2 500 million m³), ii) the construction of the Jebel Aulia dam on the While Nile in Sudan, saving 2 000 million m³ per year available for Egypt, iii) proposals for the Sennar Dam on the Blue Nile and the Junglei canal project in Sudan and for storage in Lake Tana in Ethiopia. The 1953 water policy pursued the same logic with the additional water made available by the increase in height of the Owen Dam in Uganda, partially financed by Egypt. The 1959 water policy is directly linked to the 1959 Nile Water Agreement between Sudan and Egypt to prepare for the construction of the High Aswan Dam and the new resources made available. Full control and exploitation of the Nile waters being permitted by the High Aswan Dam, the following policies concentrated on finding additional water resources, in particular groundwater and reuse of drainage water (El Qausy et al., 2011). The 2000 water policy recommends establishment of full property rights on irrigated lands (MWRI, 2005). The latest water policy of 1997-2017 increases the horizontal expansion up to 4.62 million ha, to which almost all the water budget would be dedicated. The deficit involved in this water budget is only compensated by “savings” through structural and non-structural measures–improvement of irrigation techniques, rehabilitation, increased reuse of drainage water and treated wastewater, subsurface drainage expansion, change from supply to demand management, WUAs expansion at primary and upper levels, etc.–rather than concrete new water sources, leaving no emergency reserve (El Qausy et al., 2011).

Agricultural policies also include some elements of water management. The 1980s Agricultural Development Strategy intended to fight salinization and improve irrigation in the newly reclaimed areas. The 1990s strategy aimed to improve water return and efficiency through improved irrigation techniques. The Sustainable Agricultural Development Strategy towards 2030 focuses on decentralization of water management through WUAs, irrigation O&M cost recovery, and decrease of rice and sugarcane areas, which are crops consuming a large amount of water per ha (ARE, 2009). Its objective is to achieve a comprehensive economic and social development based on a dynamic agricultural sector capable of sustained and rapid growth while paying a special attention to vulnerable social groups and reducing rural poverty.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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