Egypt’s water resources are severely constrained. This calls for increasing the water use efficiency by improving irrigation management practice, as the agriculture sector is the main user of water resources. Much of the irrigation infrastructure is elderly and in need of rehabilitation.
The irrigation improvement program (IIP) is one of the large-scale projects to help Egypt to sustain its ambitious development plan. The program involves a combination of technical changes and infrastructure investment, together with institutional and organisational changes in the way irrigation water is managed.
Of key importance, Water Users’ Associations playing a major role in decision-making and the operation and maintenance of the pumps and mesqas by themselves, with minimal assistance from the Irrigation Advisory Service (IAS) staff.
The fundamental change introduced by the irrigation improvement is to replace individual farmer pumping at multiple points along the mesqa (irrigation ditches) by collective single point pumping.
In addition to the above primary aims, there are many other aspects to the project, including intensive training for water users, the IAS, and all levels of personnel involved to the top of the ministry; special studies and seminars, workshops to help the execution of such a program.
The new program has been built on the experience of earlier irrigation programs; there is a body of knowledge that has been tested and piloted which provides underlying strength to the new reforms.
In order to increase the efficiency as well as the performance of the system, user’s participation in the management is a must since their decisions and ideas have a great impact on the operators and the modernization process of the systems would assure the sustainability of the system.
Increased crop production and achievement of real water savings in the system is dependent on the awareness and understanding of both users, and operators and managers of the system.
Increasing the capacity of users, operators and managers require intensive training. Now in Egypt the new generation has accepted the concept of users participation in the management and the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation has legalized the formation of water users association.
Importance of the case for IWRM
The case shows clearly the importance of building appropriate institutional structures in parallel to the introduction of technical changes, and sets the irrigation reforms in a broader policy context – eg general agricultural and economic liberalisation. It also illustrates the importance of testing and piloting programmes over several years as a basis for strong institutional structures.