The Nile provides Egypt with 90% of its direct water needs and 97% of its agricultural irrigation requirements. The near monopoly the Nile has on Egypt’s waters has, throughout history, shed a level of centralization on its water management. The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI) is the main responsible body for managing the distribution and drainage of water, the protection and preservation of water quality, the operation and maintenance, rehabilitation and improvement of the infrastructure.
The responsibility of the MWRI extends through the distribution network to the tertiary level and similarly on the drainage network. The farmers own and manage the field delivery ditches and field drains and secondary drains (tertiary level). They operate and maintain these waterways under the supervision of the MWRI for the public benefit. Above the tertiary level, the farmers are service recipients and the MWRI is the service provider. The relation is framed with constraints, a setting similar to a supply dominated market where there is a ceiling on prices. The farmers receive their services from MWRI in return for land tax, levied on irrigated lands. The tax does not directly finance MWRI activities; it goes to the general treasury. In total the tax revenue constitutes a small fraction of the total ministry budget and even of the O&M budget. The past 15 years have witnessed several efforts to veer the centralized management more towards public water management (PWM) as well as some privatisation efforts, in line with government policy to decentralize and privatise and with the aims to support more efficient water management and more efficient water use.