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Water Management in Algeria

Beni Haroun Dam إدارة المياه في الجزائر
Photo 1: Beni Haroun Dam. (Source: Abdelmalek Bermad)

Algeria’s water management strategy focuses on making the most of existing water resources through redistribution and increased storage and desalination capacity. Yet for a country with some of the lowest water prices in the region, Algeria relies heavily on expensive water management solutions. Without government investment, the availability and quality of the water supply will continue to decline. However, the government cannot foot the entire bill; private investment will be necessary to safeguard the water supply.[1]

Key governmental and non-governmental organizations

The state is the sole authority over water resource governance and related functions. However, faced with the high cost of managing the sector, the Ministry of Water Resources has delegated some tasks to private sector actors who are authorized to carry out connection and drainage work as well as the construction of dams and boreholes.

The organization of the sector has gone through several iterations over time:

1962-1970: Water management activities were divided between two ministries: Public Works and Agriculture.

1970-1989: All water-related tasks were brought under the State Secretary for Hydraulics, then the Ministry of Hydraulics for the Development of Land and Environment, then the Ministry of Hydraulics and finally the Ministry of the Environment and Forests.

1990-present: the Ministry of Water Resources was established and assigned oversight of the entire sector.

All water management activities are decentralized to local public institutions, under the supervision of the Ministry of Water Resources. Several organizations have been created to ensure better monitoring of activities and functions related to water, the most important being:[2]

  • National Dams and Transfers Agency;
  • National Hydraulics Resource Agency;
  • Algerian for Water;
  • National Agency for Sanitation;
  • National Agency of Irrigation and Drainage;
  • National Agency for Integrated Water Resources Management;
  • Technical Control Office of Hydraulics;
  • Watershed agencies;
  • Water police.

Laws and regulations that are in use or in preparation

After independence, Algeria adopted a monopolistic water policy, through the various programmes implemented between 1962 and 1990. Given the strong competition for water between the population, agriculture and industry, the state is the only entity that is authorized to regulate the use and consumption of water resources. The legal framework that allows the intervention stems from Law 83-17 passed in July 2003 and amended in June 1996, and has already shown its limitations in terms of integrated management.[3]

The legal framework for water governance with regards to the current institutional and economic system lacks suitable management instruments that allows it to keep up with the development of non-conventional water resources, particularly seawater desalination and wastewater reuse.

In addition, the water police fail to enforce laws and restrictions regarding deforestation, illegal connections on distribution networks and the use of polluting substances.

Financing of the water sector

The paradox between the opposing views of water as a marketable commodity and as a resource accessible to all has yet to be solved. The cost of a cubic metre of water in dams is estimated at $0.50, whereas the cost of distribution is $0.25-0.30, amounting to a total cost of $0.75-0.80 per cubic metre. In 1997, 77% of the cost of water was subsidized, but subsidies have been decreasing. The national investment strategy is outlined in Table 1.

The cost of a cubic metre of water depends mainly on the performance level of the company in charge of water management. That is why in 2005 the Ministry of Water Resources decided to delegate distribution to private international companies with better performance tools, under partnership agreements renewable every five years.

Investment (Millions $)AgricultureWater availabilitySewageWater resource mobilisation
Short term15307470177015920
Medium term96019409402850
Long term-3301470530

Table 1: National investment strategy.[4]

Role of the private sector in water management

In 2005, the authorities delegated water distribution to private international companies, a move aimed at transferring experience and know-how in drinking water supply technology to improve the well-being of Algerian households.

In the agricultural sector, trade unions and associations are responsible for ensuring water distribution, based on an equity approach between the different irrigated perimeters. The foggara system, for example, is managed by the farmers themselves, which illustrates a real partnership between authorities and stakeholders.