Water Policy in Algeria, by Dr. Nadjib Drouiche

Talking about Water Policy in Algeria is of high priority. It is increasingly concerned due to climate change, known for its great diversity and its spatial and temporal irregularity. Due to its geographical location, Algeria has an arid and semi-arid climate which brings with it higher risk of both floods and droughts, and exacerbates the already precarious situation created by chronic water scarcity faced by most of the Arab countries. This situation certainly has a major influence in shaping environmental and sustainability issues in Algeria, with water considered as the single most constraining factor of growth. Water has a vital role in the country’s sustainable development, which can hardly be overstated.

Unfortunately, the actual water situation in Algeria can easily be characterized as precarious, since the annual average per capita renewable supplies has fallen by more than 80%, from 1,770 cubic meters per capita (in 1955) to 332 cubic meters (in 2025) (Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development, 2008). These levels are far below the levels of other major regions in the world. The current water stress faced in Algeria is exacerbated by several constraints:

  • An imbalance between needs and available resources: population growth and economic development and social development have led during the past two decades, a considerable increase in the drinking water needs, industrial and agricultural;
  • The water needs expressed by the different users are markedly superior to the available and renewable water resources; a fact that creates conflicts of assignment and sometimes requires difficult choices;
  • A geographical imbalance between needs and resources: the high concentration of water needs in the coastal strip (60%) requires a reallocation, by transferring water resources (quite costly) to balance deficits in inland areas including the entire area of highlands;
  • The pollution of groundwater and surface resources: open sewage, industrial and agricultural capacity far exceeds treatment systems, reducing the volume of clean water that can be used; specifically, in Algeria industry is reported to discharge about 200 million cubic meters per year of untreated industrial wastewater into the environment (World Bank 2009), which creates considerable ecological imbalances which have already appeared in the form of constraints on future development;
  • Risk of rupture of sustainable development: in addition to the pollution, serious problems appear in samples taken from groundwater that exceed the limits of renewal of natural resources and need to draw on non-renewable reserves.

Besides, the weakness of the Algerian water resources is stressed by:

  • poor spatial distribution and the temporal irregularity of water flow;
  • soil erosion and silting of dams;
  • losses due to outdated distribution networks and inadequate management;
  • the inadequate existing infrastructure, despite the significant investments made by the country;
  • ever-important cost of investments needed for the mobilization and transfer of water resources;
  • deficient management of the existing infrastructures.

Regarding the phenomena of the persistent droughts faced in Algeria, it is noted that the hydrological year 2001-2002 was a landmark year of water crisis that gave the kick for a redefinition of the national water policy. It was during this year that the strategic potential of water supplies has reached its lowest level, and it became even more critical than any other unconventional resource was available at this time of crisis.

This situation has prompted the water sector to implement a program of prioritizing the emergency of water supply, especially in the wilaya of Algiers by interconnecting dams Ghraib, Bouroumi and Boukourdène. Similarly it was decided to install 21 small-scale seawater desalination plants along the Algerian coast, with a total capacity of 57,000 m3/d, and drill numerous wells in different regions of the territory.

This emergency program dealing with the crisis and the disruption of water supply, has highlighted the very random nature of water resources and emerged the need of using non-conventional water resources (seawater desalination and reuse of treated wastewater); this has extended the implementation of a new sector policy of water resources.

This development policy had two objectives:

  1. Securing the supply of drinking water;
  2. Increasing the rate of food security opportunities for the maintenance and expansion of irrigated areas.

To ensure the water resources needed, the water public sector plans to transfer a number of water dams from the coastal area to the area of the Tell Atlas, whose surplus will then transferred to Highlands. The deficit in the coastal zone should then be compensated by desalination of sea water and water conservation. This option is of increased importance and considered to be the biggest governmental priority. The remaining deficit of the Central Highlands area will also offset by a possible water transfer from the Sahara (Albian aquifer). Similarly, it is considered a great reuse of treated wastewater for the benefit of irrigation and industry.

The new policy confirms the strategic dimension and the priority of the water sector, which will focus on the mobilization of conventional and unconventional resources, rehabilitation of existing infrastructure and institutional reforms and organizational management. The implementation of this policy is based, among other measures, on the adaptation of a cost policy and the introduction of private sector participation.

Dr. Nadjib Drouiche works as Head of Environmental Team at the Centre de Recherche en Technologie des Semi-conducteurs pour l´Energétique (CRTSE).