Egypt's parliament – the House of Representatives – approved Tuesday a controversial government-drafted law on water resources and irrigation that would impose fees on use of irrigation water.
House Speaker Hanafy El Gebaly said the 134-article law will be up for a final vote only after it is revised by the State Council in constitutional and legal terms.
A report prepared by the House's Agriculture Committee said the law generally aims at introducing a more effective system for managing water resources in Egypt. "It also aims to address pollution and waste water at a time the country is facing dwindling water resources and adverse climate change," said the report.
The law however, caused a lot of controversy as many complained on social media plarforms that 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 licence from the ministry of irrigation. Farmers will have to obtain a renewable five-year licence against a payment of EGP 10,000 in order to be able to use the machines.
The Chairman of Parliament's Agriculture and Irrigation Committee Hesham El-Hosary told reporters on Tuesday morning that the committee decided to reduce the payment from EGP 10,000 to EGP 5,000 in order to be able to use the machines. "But when the law came up for discussion before the House, MPs approved to further cut the payment to stand at just EGP 1,250 every five years or EGP 250 per year," said El-Hosary, adding that "the reduction of the payment aims to relieve farmers of financial burdens."
Mohamed Ghanem, the Spokesperson of the Irrigation Ministry, indicated that "Article 38 does not aim to sell irrigation water to farmers, but it only seeks to rationalise 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 of 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.