Wednesday, 31 March 2021

MPs slash proposed irrigation fees by 90% amid controversy

MPs have rolled back on a proposed irrigation fee designed to curb the use of some of the nation’s canals for agriculture and limit water wastage. A provision in the draft Water Resources Act would have imposed on farmers a EGP 10k fee to pump water from the Nile, but according to Akhbar El Youm, MPs yesterday slashed the charge by almost 90%. According to one MP, the move was a response to a campaign published by foreign media outlets that had claimed the government wanted to sell water to farmers, while Ahram Online reported a swell in social media criticism in reaction to the fees.

In detail: The draft legislation would have forced farmers to pay EGP 10k for a renewable five-year license to set up pumping stations on the Nile and irrigation canals. But in a session on Monday, the House Agriculture Committee decided to reduce the fee to EGP 5k, before MPs in the general assembly cut it further to EGP 1.25k. Smallholders who own 10 feddans of land or less or farmers who use non-mechanical small pumping equipment will also be exempted from having to purchase a license, the state-owned newspaper quoted House Agriculture Committee chair Hisham El Hosary as saying.

Agriculture is the single-largest water consumer in the country. The sector alone was responsible for three-quarters of the water consumed by the entire country during fiscal year 2018-2019 — much of which is wasted thanks to outdated irrigation methods and an ailing network of canals. The Agriculture Ministry is trying to modernize irrigation systems used by farmers in eight of the nation’s governorates, while work is ongoing to upgrade canal networks as part of the government’s USD 50 bn plan for combating water security.

The reduced fee has the early green light: A report by Ahram Online suggests the proposal was greenlit in a plenary session on Tuesday, but it remains unclear if the entire Water Resources Act was approved or still making its way for a final vote.

The long-dormant Water Resources Act has been in the works since at least 2017, when it received cabinet approval. It faced several delays due to extensive discussions over some 27 House Agriculture Committee meetings. After sub-level committees were formed to resolve some of its contentious articles, the draft finally received a nod from the committee in 2019.

Besides the pumping fee, what does the act entail? According to some elements of the draft reported in 2019, the proposed law is expected to unite disparate bills on water into a single one, introduce stricter penalties for water waste, and address pollution, dwindling resources, and climate change, among other things.

The bill is an important element in Egypt’s fight against water scarcity. It’s one of two water-related laws that could help address some of the structural problems with how the country utilizes its water resources, which are increasingly under threat from climate change and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

*** WANT MORE? We covered water waste in agriculture in an issue of Hardhat last year.

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