Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Use in Algeria

Camp Tindouf in Algeria Water use in Algeria
Photo 1: Citizen pours water at a camp in Tindouf. (Taken by : Louafi Larbi)

Current water uses per sector and analysis of possible deficit

Algeria has limited natural water resources, and these are irregular and unequally distributed. The country’s natural water potential is estimated at 19 BCM/yr, but demand continues to increase.

The overall demand has quadrupled over the last 40 years and currently exceeds more than half the volume of potentially mobilizable resources. At this rate, the maximum limit of hydraulic potential is projected to be reached before 2050. In this context, strong competition is developing between the major users, adding to imbalances in resource availability between regions and making allocation decisions difficult.[1] [2]

Drinking water has acquired a clear priority over other uses, a priority that is enshrined in Algerian water legislation. The share of drinking water has grown considerably from 16% of overall consumption in 1975 to 36% in 2019. By contrast, during the same period, agriculture’s share fell from 80% to 60%, even though it remains the leading consumer (Figure 1).[3]

The water supply mainly comes from surface water allocated through reservoirs, storage facilities and transfers. Groundwater is the main water source in the south. Non-conventional water resources, such as desalination and treated wastewater, are becoming increasingly important (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Percentage of water consumption by sector (2012).

Figure 2: Percentage of water withdrawals by source (2012).

Particularly in the south, which represents the most challenging region for water management, water demand is dominated by agriculture. This is partly the result of major investments in the development of agricultural activities in the area. The volume of groundwater abstracted for agriculture and industry is reviewed annually, but the actual volumes are unclear, as data are scattered and often contradictory.

Figure 3: Multiple uses of groundwater ((MCM/year)) from the North-Western Sahara Aquifer System).

Projected water use for 2030

Based on population growth, rural-to-urban migration and per capita water demand projections, the overall water demand for all sectors is projected to be approximately 18.9 BCM by 2030 (Table 1).[4]

The planning studies conducted by the Ministry of Water Resources allow the construction of around 70 additional dams across all river basins, reaching a total of 139 reservoirs by 2030.

Usage2011 (BCM)2030 (BCM)
Drinking (urban and rural) and industrial2.93.5
Total 11.518.9

Table 1: Changes to future water demand, not taking climate change into account, in BCM.[5]

This costly investment intends to raise water availability by 5 BCM. The planned dams are to be built further and further from the place of water use, proportionally increasing the projected transfer length of the projects, in order to supply to a maximum possible area.

At the same time, a water conservation program has been implemented in the agricultural sector with the aim to significantly reduce water abstractions and irrigation returns and thus increase the groundwater availability and meet the current demand. This is intended to be achieved by substituting groundwater supply with surface water, increasing artificial recharge with reclaimed water and strengthening the monitoring and sanctions system for over-users and the restriction on groundwater pumping.

The Algerian National Strategy for Development of Water Resources gives a significant place to the exploitation of non-conventional water resources. Non-conventional water production is forecasted to be nearly 3 BCM in 2030. This water is intended to be used for watering green spaces and sports fields and developing irrigation around urban areas.

Agricultural water use and irrigation development

Despite the agricultural sector being the largest water consumer in Algeria, it makes a minimal contribution to GDP. Agriculture is based on both large irrigated perimeters managed by the National Office of Irrigation and Drainage as well as privately owned small and medium perimeters and irrigation areas. The total irrigated area is intended to reach 2 million hectares in 2019 (Figure 4).[6]

In the north, large perimeters are irrigated from dams and boreholes. In the south, perimeters are irrigated from deep boreholes in the large aquifers of the Continental Interlayer. At the same time, small-scale irrigation schemes have developed remarkably, thanks to state aid and subsidies granted to farmers as well as the liberalization of drilling and well digging. The main crops produced on small-scale farms contribute significantly to meeting the fresh fruit and vegetable requirements of the entire population.

Figure 4: Evolution of irrigated perimeters.

This development has, unfortunately, been accompanied by large and poorly controlled abstractions of groundwater and even overexploitation of some large aquifers.

Gravity irrigation is still the most widely used method on small- and medium-scale farms. However, more efficient irrigation methods have been gaining traction, especially drip irrigation, which is commonly observed in the arid highlands and Saharan regions.

[1] FAO Aquastat, 2015. Algeria.
[2] GIZ/BGR/OSS, 2016. Projet CREM: Etude d’évaluation du secteur de l’eau en Algérie, Etat des Lieux.
[3] FAO Aquastat, 2015. Algeria.
[4]Hamiche A, Stambouli A and Flazi S, 2016. ‘A review on the water and energy sectors in Algeria: Current forecasts, scenario and sustainability issues’. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 41:261-276.
[5] Ibid.
[6] GIZ/BGR/OSS, 2016. Projet CREM: Etude d’évaluation du secteur de l’eau en Algérie, Etat des Lieux.