By Mohamed Abdel Mansaf
Egypt suffers from a severe water shortage with getting enough water a major shortage for agricultural production. There are major concerns the shortage will stand in the way of expansionary state agriculture projects, threatening the notion of food self-sufficiency and contributing to the increase in food prices.
The failure of irrigation water to reach the ends of the canals is among the foremost problems behind the water shortage crisis. It is cited repeatedly by farmers as a major impediment to irrigating their crops in the summer.
Engineer Eid Beheiry, head of the irrigation section at the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, said the ministry had put in place a medium-term plan through 2017 to confront the crisis and end it. In the budget for the current fiscal year, approximately EGP 1.2 billion in funding was earmarked to raise irrigation efficiency and put an end to water shortages at the ends of the canals, along with working to remove weeds and line the canal to facilitate the movement of water and reduce losses.
The Ministry of Irrigation worked to provide water for agricultural, industrial, and tourism needs as well as drinking water stations at the right time and in sufficient quantities. They did this by improving the integrity of viaducts to prevent collapse, purging the canal of weeds to guarantee the ease of the water’s flow inside and introducing a new automated control system to administer the canal network, which stretches across more than 33,000 km of Egypt. They have also established a decentralized system for administering the network so that water shortage problems may be dealt with swiftly in the centers and governorates.
The ministry also designated EGP 1.217 billion in this fiscal year’s budget (2013/2014) to renovate and develop irrigation facilities and raise the efficiency of the viaducts, as well as to renovate the pipelines that transport the water from one waterway to another under a third waterway.
“We earmarked EGP 250 million from the ministry’s budget for the current year (2013/2014) to perform the necessary maintenance on the canals and follow the process of removing the weeds that obstruct water flow. We also established a central operations room at the ministry and on the governorate level to track the water’s position throughout the day in order to resolve farmers’ complaints as they come in.”
He revealed that the irrigation section of the Ministry of Water Resources received $20 million in loans from the World Bank to fund projects to strengthen the sides of the viaducts to prevent subsequent collapse. The Social Fund for Development (SFD) will implement the project.
In order to address the serious abuses the Nile River faces, the Ministry of Justice also agreed under Resolution No. 524 (2013) to grant irrigation engineers the status of judicial officers so as to allow them to address increased encroachment on the Nile and its aqueducts. According to the head of the ministry’s irrigation section, this should allow for problems to be handled quickly and for an end to crimes in violation of the provisions of the Law on the Protection of the Nile River and its Waterways from Pollution and Law No. 12 (1984) on the management of irrigation and drainage facilities.
The ministry also undertook to join the management of irrigation and drainage under the same management in order to create a body capable of handling emergencies and expanding the application of decentralized decision-making at all administrative levels.
Beheiry estimated the quantity of water that is discharged behind the High Dam to meet all water needs was approximately 70 million cubic meters per day and approximately 260 cubic meters in summer, the period of maximum need. This did not exceed Egypt’s set share of Nile water, which is 55.5 billion cubic meters annually.
To this end, the ministry distributes a newsletter every three months to the tourist boats with the depth of immersion inside the locks built on barrages so as not to cause confusion in water management or force the ministry to discharge larger amounts of water to float the ships at the barrages.
“We at the ministry plan to address the country’s future water demand for all uses through 2017, relying on improving the quality of agricultural drainage water, to increase the quantity that is reusable from 11 billion to 16 billion cubic meters,” Beheiry said.
The ministry also aims to increase the amount of groundwater extracted from the Valley and the Delta, as well as from deep aquifers in the desert, from 2 billion to 8 billion cubic meters.
The cost of constructing a deep well to irrigate 100 acres is approximately EGP 1 million. It has become a necessary procedure in order to confront the water shortage of almost 23 billion cubic meters a year, however.
Beheiry said that the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation was encouraging the private sector, especially owners of tourist resorts, to use seawater desalination devices since the cost of desalinating a cubic meter of water has been reduced to 50 cents.
The ministry introduced an informational network to link irrigation engineers on the national level and developed automated control systems for operating the canal network and water distribution, according to the needs of each region.
Beheiry said that water takes approximately 10 days from the time it leaves Lake Nasser to reach the sea, which requires the High Dam’s engineers to be notified of all water needs at least 10 days in advance by telemetric systems which immediately notify irrigation engineers of water levels in the canals.
There was also coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture in not titling the approximately 500,000 acres of land already irrigated separately from the state’s plan, Beheiry said. They are located in the desert for the Ismailia canals in Ismailia and Sharqiya governorates, in Noubaria, especially the sugar beet area, and Bahr Yusuf in Fayoum governorate. Beheiry explained that the design of these three canal areas did not allow for more irrigation water.
Beheiry said the transfer of water management in the canals from the ministry to civil society organizations represented by the water boards. These groups would supervise the process of distributing water amongst the beneficiaries and perform maintenance on irrigation and drainage networks. They would also participate in implementing infrastructure projects and training farmers in the selection of the appropriate crop compositions and their allotted share of water so that they might take control of their land and achieve an economically rewarding return.
The Protocol for Cooperation provides for the Ministry of Agriculture to supply the Ministry of Irrigation with crop schedules, so it can provide their water needs at the appropriate time. This will affect citizens next winter season.
Beheiry emphasized that the repeated bottlenecking of water at the ends of the canals was the result of farmers delayed cultivation of cotton, in addition to early planting of the rice crop, which is known for its excessive consumption of water and space.
Rice cultivation consumes between 6000 and 7000 cubic meters, in contrast to the 3000 cubic meters consumed by other summer crops. The increase in rice cultivation area from 1.76 million acres to around 2 million acres is matched by a rise in water consumption ranging from 2 to 4 billion cubic meters of water, according to Beheiry.
He stressed that engineers were engaged in the daily monitoring of farmers to ensure their commitment to following the modern irrigation methods, either sprinkler or drip irrigation or their equivalents in desert irrigation, and to stopping the practice of irrigation by immersion.
Beheiry asked the Ministry of Agriculture to stop cultivating bananas, which are focused in designated reclamation areas with modern irrigation methods. Average water consumption is as high as 50 cubic meters per acre daily, equivalent to that of five or six farmed acres of maize.