Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Management in Egypt

Egypt's Nile River
Photo 1: This picture taken on January 17, 2022 shows an aerial view of the Nile river in Egypt's southern province of Qena, north of Luxor. What's the longest river in the world, the Nile or the Amazon? The question has fueled a heated debate for years. Now, an expedition into the South American jungle aims to settle it for good. Using boats powered by solar energy and pedal power, an international team of explorers plans to set off in April 2024 to definitively establish the source of the Amazon in the Peruvian Andes, then travel nearly 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) across Colombia and Brazil, to the massive river's mouth on the Atlantic. Source: Amir MAKAR / AFP

Egypt is considered one of the driest nations in the world. The United Nations defines ‘absolute water scarcity’ as having less than 500 m3 of water per person per year. Estimates put Egypt’s current water resources at 560 m3 per person per year, bringing the country perilously close to reaching absolute water scarcity.[1]

Projected water scarcity in 2025
Map 1: Projected water scarcity in 2025. Source: Fanack Water

Key governmental and non-governmental organizations

Different organizations play different roles in managing issues relating to water and the environment, including the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, the Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities, the National Water Research Center, the Ministry of Environment, and the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater.[2]

The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI) is the main governmental organization in the water sector. It has adopted a policy to integrate all water management functions at the district level to assist decentralized management. To support implementation, the MWRI formed the Integrated Water Management Unit (IWMU) in December 2003, which has established a number of Branch Canal Water Users’ Associations (BCWUA) to promote stakeholders’ participation. Establishing a BCWUA provides opportunities for regional and local stakeholders, including governmental and non-governmental organizations, to participate in the process of water management.

The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) acts as the Ministry of Environment’s executive branch and oversees the management of the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). The EPF receives funding from the general state budget as well as donations and grants from domestic and international organizations, court-ordered fines and compensation and out-of-court settlements. The EPF’s primary objectives are to promote environmental sector investment and to support the government’s environmental, social and economic policies.

The Ministry of Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities (MoHUUC) is responsible for addressing Egypt’s housing issues, with a mandate to provide public housing, drinking water and wastewater treatment utilities, and the planning and subdivision of new urban communities.

The Holding Company for Water and Wastewater’s primary areas of focus include sludge treatment services, drinking water purification, desalination and distribution. The company closely collaborates with the MoHUUC to offer utilities to new communities (such as the New Administrative Capital) and to expand the services to populated and industrial areas in Upper Egypt and border cities.

Financing of the water sector

The government’s current and future water policies are likely to rely on national sources of funding, such as taxes, agricultural user fees and municipal/industrial user fees. However, international organizations such as USAID, the European Union and the World Bank play important roles in assisting Egypt’s water sector. The following are some examples of ongoing funded projects:[3]

USAID is planning to spend $45 million to improve access to drinking water and sanitation systems for residents of rural communities in Upper Egypt by constructing water and wastewater systems that serve over 160,000 people. Many residents in the targeted areas will be able to use sewage networks for the first time in their lives once this initiative is completed, and the amount of wastewater sent into agricultural irrigation canals will be decreased.

The European Union is providing Egypt with a $117.9 million grant in 2023 to support the budget of the water and energy sectors.

The World Bank supported a project with a total budget of $250 million that aims to improve productivity and climate resilience in the agri-food sector.

Role of the private sector in water management

In its integrated water resources management (IWRM) strategy, the government suggested raising user contributions. To execute this idea and enable private sector engagement in financing, building and running irrigation systems in response to consumer preferences and willingness to pay, legislative changes are still needed. However, the government’s suggestion represents the strong political desire to create a central public-private partnership (PPP) unit under the Ministry of Finance to attract private investors in several infrastructure sectors.

The development of Egypt’s first smart irrigation system by the Elsewedy Technology company is a successful example of involving the private sector in an IWRM strategy. The developed technology could provide efficient irrigation with minimal water, as well as facilities for remotely monitoring crop cultivation and facilitating effective and cost-efficient management of large-area crops.[4]

[1] Ghodeif, K., Grischek, T., et al., 2016.Potential of river bank filtration (RBF) in Egypt. Environmental Earth Sciences,  75(8): 671.
[2] administration, I.T. Egypt profile. 2023; Available from: https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/egypt-water-and-environment.
[3] Al Mestiraihi, M., Becker, K.H., et al. Developing undergraduate water program courses: meeting the needs of the Egyptian workforce. in 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access. 2021.
[4] ElsewedyElectric. The first Egyptian smart irrigation system. 2023; Available from: https://www.elsewedyelectric.com/en/news-room/the-first-egyptian-smart-irrigation-system/.