Journal Issue

Bank activity: Assistance from the Bank plays a role in the progress of the Nile Delta Drainage Project

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
March 1976
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Nile drainage project shows progress

The irrigated land in the Nile delta, under continuous cultivation for more than five millenia, is today faced with the prospect of either total unproductivity or critically declining productivity by the end of this century. The reasons: waterlogging and salinity.

In an effort to overcome these problems, in 1970 the World Bank, through the International Development Association (IDA), became a participant in the US$221 million Nile Delta Drainage Project, which began in 1971, and is now showing substantial progress. The IDA commitment of $26 million is for the work of draining excess water from a million acres of agricultural land in the delta. More than one third of the total project area has now been rehabilitated, and crop productivity there has been increased by 20 per cent. The project is expected to be completed by 1979.

The importance to Egypt of increased agricultural yields is absolute. Egypt is a large country (covering some 386,000 square miles), but 96 per cent of the land is desert. Thus, in order to feed her growing population, which is increasing by about 2.5 per cent a year, and to reduce expensive food imports (costing nearly $150 million annually), the productivity of Egyptian agriculture from available land must be increased.

Waterlogging adversely affects all the major crops grown in Egypt except for the shallow-rooted Egyptian clover and wheat. Salinity too causes a diminution in crop productivity, especially in the delta.

The Nile Delta Drainage Project involves Bank assistance in a number of activities related to the major task of laying drainage tiles. Funds totaling $2.8 million have been made available for the purchase of machines to deepen main irrigation drains (because drainage effluent would increase, and hence deeper collectors would be required, as a result of tile laying) in the delta; $6.8 million for the construction and equipping of new pumping stations to lift and discharge the increased drainage effluent into the main canals; and $3.4 million for training, the purchase of maintenance equipment and agricultural extension service vehicles, and contingencies.

Almost exactly half the amount of the credit—some $13 million—involves, in one way or the other, the equipment needed for making the tiles and laying them in 950,000 feddans (about 950,000 acres) of irrigated land between Cairo and the Mediterranean coast.

Since the introduction of perennial irrigation with the help of a barrage in 1890, the natural drainage of the delta has been increasingly incapable of discharging the large quantity of surface run-off and year-round seepage from the fields, canals, and branches. Despite the construction of a widespread system of surface drains and pump stations, the groundwater has gradually risen, and in many areas of the delta, it is now less than two and a half feet from the surface. With the increase in available water for irrigation, too, has come an increase in the salinization of the soil. It was originally thought that the Aswan Dam would reduce the groundwater pressure, permitting adequate natural drainage of excess groundwater into the Nile. Instead, the upward pressure has intensified.

World Bank loans approved during second quarter of fiscal 1976(Ended December 31, 1975)
CountryPurpose($ million)
Brazil (2)Railways, rural development87.0
Costa RicaHighways39.0
Ghana (3)DFC, highways, cocoa42.0
Ivory CoastDFC8.0
Kenya (2)Water supply, education45.0
Korea (2)Dairy, DFC45.0
MexicoWater supply and sewerage40.0
PeruLima-Amazon transport76.5
RomaniaFlood recovery60.0
YugoslaviaOil pipeline49.0
Uruguay (2)Livestock, industry52.0
Total loans during second quarter of fiscal 1976811.8
Total loans during first half of fiscal 19761,414.6
*With a $10 million IDA credit
*With a $10 million IDA credit
IDA credits during second quarter of fiscal 1976(Ended December 31, 1975)
CountryPurpose($ million)
BurundiCoffee improvement5.2
EthiopiaRangelands development27.0
Gambia, TheTourism infrastructure4.0
India (2)Fertilizer, forestry109.0
NigerRural development10.7
RwandaHighways (amendment)9.5
Sri LankaAgriculture25.0
Tanzania (3)Technical assistance, education, maize35.0
Total credits during second quarter of fiscal 1976424.5
Total credits during first half of fiscal 1976715.4

With an $18 million Bank loan.

With an $18 million Bank loan.

The project to counter these problems has been described as technically simple, but logistically complex. It is technically simple because the operation—repeated in dozens of places in the project area at the same time—basically involves the use of a single machine which simultaneously digs a trench and lays the drainage tiles. It is logistically complex because it calls for timely setting-out of the designed drains layout; an adequate and continuous supply of drainpipes laid along the drain line; readily accessible fuel and water supplies; adequate gravel supplies for filter material; well-trained operators, relief operators, and inspectors; trained field maintenance crews and ready spares facilities; and experienced engineering supervision.

The area of irrigated land has expanded since the commissioning of the Aswan Dam, and cropping intensity has more than doubled through the conversion of previously flood-irrigated areas to perennial irrigation. But because increasing the area of irrigated land is so expensive, the Government has given the highest priority to improving the productivity of land already under cultivation. And, with the help of IDA financing, the two major constraints to productivity increases—waterlogging and salinity—are now being overcome through the Nile Delta Drainage Project.

Peter C. Muncie

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