File photo: Egyptian parliament (photo: Khaled Mashaal)
Egypt's parliament – the House of Representatives – is expected on Sunday to vote on a controversial draft law that imposes fees on the use of irrigation water, a move aimed at saving water amid fears of decrease in water supply due to the construction of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam.
The 134-article law, provisionally approved by the House in March, generally aims at introducing a more effective system for managing water resources in Egypt, and addressing pollution and waste water at a time the country is facing dwindling water resources and adverse climate change.
The law has caused a lot of controversy as many took to social media platforms complaining that the law’s Article 38 aims to sell irrigation water to farmers.
Article 38, as originally drafted by the government, states that farmers are allowed to use and operate water pumping machines on the River Nile, main water currents, canals, irrigation networks and reservoirs only under a prior license from the ministry of irrigation.
Farmers will have to obtain a renewable five-year license in return for a payment of EGP 10,000 in order to be able to use the machines.
Chairman of parliament's agriculture and irrigation committee Hesham El-Hosary indicated that "MPs had approved to reduce the payment from EGP 10,000 to stand at just EGP 1,250 every five years or EGP 250 per year, and that the reduction of the payment aims to relieve farmers of financial burdens."
Spokesman for the Irrigation Ministry Mohamed Ghanem has said the article does not aim to sell irrigation water to farmers, but it only seeks to rationalize the use of water from the Nile and main water currents by imposing fees on the operation of giant machines, which pump huge quantities of water from the Nile to irrigate wide-scale agricultural fields.
"Farmers who use these kinds of expensive machinery represent just one or two percent of Egypt's total number of farmers who are mostly small-scale landowners who only use small and subsidised water canals," said Ghanem.
MPs also approved cutting the cost of drilling underground wells from EGP 10,000 to EGP 5,000 every five years.
The House will also discuss on Sunday a government-drafted law aimed at protecting and developing Egypt's lakes and fish wealth.
The bill states that an "Authority on the Protection and Development of Lakes and Fish Wealth" will be set up to take charge of managing and preserving Egyptian lakes to double their production of fish.
It also states that the new authority, which will be affiliated with the cabinet, will be responsible for protecting Egyptian lakes and aquariums from pollution and land encroachment.
A report prepared by the House's Agriculture Committee indicated that the new authority will be also authorized with licensing fish farms and fish processing projects, as well as regulating fishing operations and managing fishing ports.