Irrigation in Egypt


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Irrigation for agriculture

Green irrigated land along the Nile amidst the desert
Green irrigated land along the Nile amidst the desert

Due to the absence of appreciable rainfall, Egypt's agriculture depends entirely on irrigation. With irrigation, two crops per year can be produced, except for sugar cane which has a growing period of almost one year.

The high dam at Aswan releases, on average, 55 billion m³ water per year of which some 46 billion m³ are diverted into the irrigation canals.

Water balances
Water balances

In the Nile valley and delta, almost 8 million feddan (1 feddan is 1.038 acre or 4200.835 m2) benefit from these waters producing on average 1.8 crops per year.

The annual crop consumptive use of water is about 38 billion m³. Hence, the overall irrigation efficiency is 38/46 = 0.82 or 82%. This is a relatively high irrigation efficiency. The field irrigation efficiencies are much less, but the losses are re-used downstream. This continuous re-use accounts for the high overall efficiency.

Main irrigation systems (schematically)
Main irrigation systems (schematically)

The following table shows that the equal distribution of irrigation water over the branch canals taking off from the main irrigation canals leaves much to be desired [1] :

Branch canal Water delivery in m³/feddan *)
Kafret Nasser 4700
Beni Magdul 3500
El Mansuria 3300
El Hammami upstream 2800
El Hammami downstream 1800
El Shimi 1200

*) Period 1 March to 31 July. 1 feddan is about 1 acre or 0.42 ha.

*) Data from the Egyptian Water Use Management Project (EWUP) [2]


Salinity and drainage

Salt balance
The salt concentration of the water in the Aswan reservoir is about 0.25 kg/m³. This is very non-salty. At an annual inflow of 55 billion m³, the annual salt import reaches 14 million tons. The average salt concentration of the drainage water evacuated into the sea and the coastal lakes is 2.7 kg/m³ [4] . At an annual discharge of 10 billion m³ (not counting the 2 billion m³ of salt intrusion from the sea and the lakes, see figure "Water balances"), the annual salt export reaches 27 million ton. In 1995, the salt export was higher than the import, and Egypt's agricultural lands were desalinizing. Part of this could be due to the large number of agricultural subsurface drainage projects executed in the last decades to control the water table and soil salinity. [5]

Drainage through sub-surface drains and drainage channels is essential to prevent a deterioration of crop yields from waterlogging and soil salinization caused by irrigation. By 2003 more than 2 million ha have been equipped with an agricultural subsurface drainage system and approximately 7.2 billion m3 of water is drained annually from areas with these systems. The total investment cost in agricultural drainage over 27 years from 1973 to 2002 was about 3.1 billion US$ covering the cost of design, construction, maintenance, research and training. During this period 11 large scale projects were implemented with financial support from World Bank and other donors [6]


  1. Impacts of the Irrigation Improvement Projects in Egypt. Egyptian-Dutch Advisory Panel and International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement, Wageningen, The Netherlands, 1999. Download from : [1] , under nr. 4, or directly as PDF : [2]
  2. Egyptian Water Use Management Project (EWUP), 1984. Improving Egypt’s Irrigation System in the Old Lands, Final Report. Colorado State University and Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources
  3. A comparative survey of dam-induced resettlement in 50 cases by Thayer Scudder and John Gray [3]
  4. Egyptian Drainage Research Institute, DRI, yearbook 1995/1996
  5. M.S.Abdel-Dayem, 1987. Development of land drainage in Egypt. In: J.Vos (Ed.) Proceedings, Symposium 25th International Course on Land Drainage. ILRI publ. 42. International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
  6. Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, Egyptian Public Authority for Drainage Projects, Drainage Research Institute, 2006: The National Drainage and Drainage Water Reuse Programs, Egypt, Local Actions at the 4th World Water Forum, March 2, 2007, accessed on April 28, 2010


 Irrimpr.pdf Irrigation Improvement in Egypt

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