, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 490–503 | Cite as

A Socio-Ecological Investigation of Options to Manage Groundwater Degradation in the Western Desert, Egypt

  • Caroline King
  • Boshra Salem


Under increasing water scarcity, collective groundwater management is a global concern. This article presents an interdisciplinary analysis of this challenge drawing on a survey including 50 large and small farms and gardens in a village in an agricultural land reclamation area on the edge of the Western Desert of Egypt. Findings revealed that smallholders rely on a practice of shallow groundwater use, through which drainage water from adjacent irrigation areas is effectively recycled within the surface aquifer. Expanding agroindustrial activities in the surrounding area are socio-economically important, but by mining non-renewable water in the surrounding area, they set in motion a degradation process with social and ecological consequences for all users in the multi-layered aquifer system. Based on the findings of our investigation, we identify opportunities for local authorities to more systematically connect available environmental information sources and common pool resource management precedents, to counterbalance the degradation threat.


Groundwater management Socio-ecological Human–environment interactions 



Many people have provided inputs into the compilation of this report. They bear no responsibility for the final report, or any errors that it may contain. We wish to express particular thanks to the following people for their advice and assistance: the residents of the village of Beni Salama, who advised on the development of the field survey, and hosted numerous research visits with kindness and good humor, the Mayor of Wadi El Natrun and Officials of Wadi El Natrun City Council, Eng. Seyyid Serkis, Akram Fekry and Fatma Abdel-Rahman Attia, who provided essential advice and information on groundwater management provisions in Wadi El Natrun; Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim Gad and colleagues at the Desert Research Center, who provided scientific advice and access to 50 years of archived local information, enabling this report to be compiled. Fabrice Renaud, Harriet Bigas and colleagues taking part in the United Nations University (UNU)—UNESCO International Hydrological Programme (IHP) international research project on Groundwater and Human Security Case Studies (GWAHS-CS). Funding for field research was provided through an Award for Doctoral study funded by ESRC/NERC, UK. We thank three anonymous reviewers for AMBIO for their suggestions toward the finalization of this manuscript. We also thank Suganthi Duraisingam and Harris Switzman for their support during the preparation of the manuscript.

Supplementary material

13280_2012_255_MOESM1_ESM.doc (246 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 246 kb)


  1. Adams, W.M. 1996. Irrigation, erosion and famine: Visions of environmental change in Marakwet, Kenya. In The lie of the land: Challenging received wisdom on the African environment, ed. M.R. Leach, 155–167. London: James Currey Heinemann.Google Scholar
  2. AFD. 2008. West Delta Water Conservation and Rehabilitation Project—Complementary assessment of feasibility study. 112. French Development Agency and Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.Google Scholar
  3. Ahmed, N., H. Ibrahim, A. Rowe, and H. Yacoub. 2002. Traditional land tenure and current natural resource use within the Siwa protected area: Approaches to facilitating collaborative management, ed. S.-E.-C. Italiana-IUCN, 59. Siwa: Siwa Protected Area.Google Scholar
  4. Allan, J.A. 2007. Rural economic transitions: Groundwater use in the Middle East. Wallingford: CABI.Google Scholar
  5. Attia, F., H. Fahmi, J. Gambarelli, R. Hoevenaars, R. Slootweg, and S. AbdelDayem. 2005. WDWCIARP Drainframe Analysis, Main Report. World Bank.Google Scholar
  6. Attia, F.A.R., H. Fahmy, M. Eid, and Slootweg R (eds.). 2007. The West Delta water conservation and irrigation rehabilitation project (WDWCIRP) environmental and social impacts and a framework management—plan part I: Environmental and social impact assessment, part II: environmental and social management plan—final draft. 86. Arab Republic of Egypt Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation and World Bank.Google Scholar
  7. Attia, H. 2002. Water-sharing rights in the Jerid Oases of Tunisia. In Conflict prevention and resolution in water systems, ed. A.T. Wolf, 239–260. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  8. Bakr, N., D.C. Weindorf, M.H. Bahnassy, S.M. Marei, and M.M. El-Badawi. 2010. Monitoring land cover changes in a newly reclaimed area of Egypt using multi-temporal Landsat data. Applied Geography 3: 592–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Belausteguigoitia, J.C. 2004. Causal chain analysis and root causes: The GIWA approach. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 33: 7–12.Google Scholar
  10. CEDARE. 2001. Regional strategy for the utilization of the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (groundwater model). Cairo: Center for the Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe.Google Scholar
  11. CEDARE. 2006. Water conflicts and conflict management mechanisms in the Middle East and North Africa Region. Cairo: Center for the Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe.Google Scholar
  12. Dangles, O., F.C. Carpio, M. Villares, F. Yumisaca, B. Liger, F. Rebaudo, and J.F. Silvain. 2010. Community-based participatory research helps farmers and scientists to manage invasive pests in the Ecuadorian Andes. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 39: 325–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Danielsen, F., M.M. Mendoza, A. Tagtag, P.A. Alviola, D.S. Balete, A.E. Jensen, M. Enghoff, and M.K. Poulsen. 2007. Increasing conservation management action by involving local people in natural resource monitoring. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 36: 566–570.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dawoud, M.A. 2004. Design of national groundwater quality monitoring network in Egypt. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 96: 99–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dubash, N.K. 2002. Tubewell capitalism: Groundwater development and Agrarian change in Gujarat. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. El Bastawisy, and I.Y. 2006. Social, economic and cultural perspectives of the western oases inhabitants “El Wahataya” on Medicinal Plants. Cairo University Journal of African Studies, Occasional Paper, 48.Google Scholar
  17. Falkenmark, M. 1981. Groundwater is a natural resource too. AMBIO 10: 49.Google Scholar
  18. FAO. 2002. Agricultural drainage water management in arid and semi-arid areas. In FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper 61. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.Google Scholar
  19. Folke, C. 2006. Resilience: The emergence of a perspective for socialecological systems analyses. Global Environmental Change 16: 253–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Folke, C., S. Carpenter, T. Elmqvist, L. Gunderson, C.S. Holling, and B. Walker. 2002. Resilience and sustainable development: Building adaptive capacity in a world of transformations. AMBIO 31: 437–440.Google Scholar
  21. Gebrehiwot, S., A. Taye, and K. Bishop. 2010. Forest cover and stream flow in a headwater of the Blue Nile: Complementing observational data analysis with community perception. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 39: 284–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Geirnaert, W., and M.P. Laeven. 1992. Composition and history of ground water in the western Nile Delta. Journal of Hydrology 138: 169–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Giordano, M., and K. Villholth (eds.). 2007. The agricultural groundwater revolution: Opportunities and threats to development. In Comprehensive Assessments of Water Management in Agriculture No 3. Colombo: International Water Management Institute and CABI.Google Scholar
  24. Hammani, A., T. Hartani, M. Kuper, and A. Imache. 2009. Paving the way for groundwater management: Transforming information for crafting management rules. Irrigation and Drainage 58: S240–S251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ibrahim, S.M.M. 2005. Groundwater resources management in Wadi El-Farigh and its vicinities for sustainable agricultural development. PhD Thesis. Cairo: Ain Shams University.Google Scholar
  26. IBRD. 2007. Making the most of scarcity: Accountability for better water management results in the Middle East and North Africa. In MENA development report on water, ed. W. Bank, 270. Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  27. Idris, H. 1996. Springs in Egypt. Environmental Geology 27: 99–104.Google Scholar
  28. Khater, A.R. 2003. Intensive groundwater use in the Middle East and North Africa. In Intensive use of groundwater: Challenges and opportunities, eds. R. Llamas, E. Custodio, C. Coleto, A. Huerga, and L.M. Cortina, 355–386. Lisse: Abingdon Balkema.Google Scholar
  29. Kovacs, G. 1977. Human interaction with ground water. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 6: 22–26.Google Scholar
  30. LaMoreaux. 1962. Reconnaissance report and recommendations for ground-water investigations Wadi El Natrun Western Desert of Egypt. Prepared at the request of the General Desert Development Organization, 56. Cairo.Google Scholar
  31. Lightfoot, D., N. Mavlyanov, D. Begimkulov, and J.C. Comer. 2009. Reliability of interview data for monitoring and mapping groundwater. In Groundwater and climate in Africa, ed. R.G. Taylor. Wallingford: IAHS Press.Google Scholar
  32. Luedeling, E., and A. Buerkert. 2008. Typology of oases in northern Oman based on Landsat and SRTM imagery and geological survey data. Remote Sensing of Environment 112: 1181–1195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. MALR. 2005. Egyptian national action program to combat desertification. In UNCCD, eds. A.M. Hegazi, Afifi, M.Y., El Shorbagy, M.A., Elwan, A.A., and El-Demerdashe, S, 118. Cairo: Desert Research Center.Google Scholar
  34. Mitchell, T. 2002. Rule of experts: Egypt, techno-politics, modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  35. Moench, M. 2004. Groundwater: The challenge of monitoring and management. In The World’s Water 2004–2005, ed. P. Gleick, 79–100. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  36. Mukherji, A., and T. Shah. 2005. Groundwater socio-ecology and governance: A review of institutions and policies in selected countries. Hydrogeology Journal 13: 328–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mustafa, D., and M.U. Qazi. 2007. Transition from Karez to tubewell irrigation: Development, modernization, and social capital in Balochistan, Pakistan. World Development 35: 1796–1813.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. MWRI. 2005. Participatory water management in the Egyptian Oases 30. Cairo: Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.Google Scholar
  39. Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pahl-Wostl, C. 2009. A conceptual framework for analysing adaptive capacity and multi-level learning processes in resource governance regimes. Global Environmental Change 19: 354–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. RIGW. 1990. Hydrogeological map of Egypt Scale 1:100 000 Wadi El Natrun. 11. Research Institute for Groundwater (RIGW), Ministry of Public Works and Water Resources.Google Scholar
  42. RIGW/IWACO. 1991. Groundwater potential in the Nile Valley and Delta. In Internal Report. Cairo.Google Scholar
  43. Salem, B. 2008. Omayed biosphere reserve, Egypt, Chapter 3. In Sustainable management of marginal drylandsusing science to promote sustainable developmentSUMAMAD Project findings from Northern Africa to Asia, ed. UNESCO, 63–103. Paris: UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme.Google Scholar
  44. Schlager, E. 2007. Community management of groundwater. In The agricultural groundwater revolution, comprehensive assessment of water management in agriculture, vol. 3, eds. M. Giordano, and K.G. Villholth, 131–152. Wallingford: CABI.Google Scholar
  45. Shah, T. 2009. Taming the anarchy: Groundwater governance in South Asia. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future.Google Scholar
  46. Stringer, L.C., C. Twyman, and D.S.G. Thomas. 2007. Combating land degradation through participatory means: The case of Swaziland full access. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 36: 387–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Thenkabail, P.S., C.M. Biradar, P. Noojipady, V. Dheeravath, Y. Li, M. Velpuri, M. Gumma, O.R.P. Gangalakunta, H. Turral, X. Cai, J. Vithanage, M.A. Schull, and R. Dutta. 2009. Global irrigated area map (GIAM), derived from remote sensing, for the end of the last millennium. International Journal of Remote Sensing 30: 3679–3733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. van Steenbergen, F. 2006. Promoting local management in groundwater. Hydrogeology Journal 14: 380–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. van Achthoven, T., Z. Merabet, K.S. Shalaby, and F.v. Steenbergen. 2004. Balancing productivity and environmental pressure in Egypt toward an interdisciplinary and integrated approach to agricultural drainage. In ARD, ed. A. a. R. D. D. (ARD), 83. Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  50. World Bank. 2007. Project appraisal document on a proposed loan in the amount of US$145 million to the Arab republic of Egypt for West Delta water conservation and irrigation rehabilitation project, May 22, 2007. 104. Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  51. WWAP. 2009. Water in a changing world. In The United Nations World Water Development Report 3, ed. World Water Assessment Programme, 349. Paris: UN Water.Google Scholar
  52. Yehia, H.A.-L.M. 2004. Land resource assessment for sustainable agriculture development at multi spatial scale: A case study for Behira governorate and Wadi El Natrun District, Egypt. In Soil and water science, Faculty of Agriculture, 218. Alexandria: University of Alexandria.Google Scholar
  53. Zahran, M.A., and A.J. Willis. 2009. The vegetation of Egypt, 2nd ed. New York: Springer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oxford University Centre for the Environment, University of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of AlexandriaAlexandriaEgypt

Personalised recommendations