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Lining Irrigation Canals

Lining an Irrigation Canal in Abu Minqar

In January and February 2008, the Farmers Association of Bir Wahid realized the second task of their action plan: lining a secondary canal in their irrigation command area. All secondary canals in Abu Minqar were previously unlined (see picture of the unlined canal below). The weed-covered mud bases of these canals severely slow down water speed, resulting in up to 50% of water loss betweenthe wells and the fields to seepage and evaporation. After having cleaned 6kmof secondary canals in the area in November and December 2007, the farmers association planned to further improve their irrigation infrastructure and to make water demand management in the oasis more efficient.

In partnership with DDC engineers, the farmers of Bir Wahid discussed the location, appropriate design and time plan for the lining of the canal. Estimated costs for lining the selected 800m-long canal were 62,000 EGP. The association’s members gathered a total of 11,000 EGP from 22 of the 24 farmers who cultivate land along the canal. The project team matched this amount with 51,000EGP from the WaDI mena Egypt project budget.

Canal construction commenced under pressing time constraints – the existing ditch would have to be dry, meaning crops would not be irrigated for the duration of the process. During the winter months, field crops can survive a period of up to eight weeks without water. The association and project team thus faced a challenge of starting and finishing construction in less than eight weeks, as losing an entire season’s harvest was not an option.

Building materials had to be delivered from different places around the area: the sand and cement came from Farafra; the bricks from Menya; and the iron from Dakhla. Finding suppliers,negotiating prices, and organizing delivery proved to be a demanding task. Moreover, the construction team was equipped with the most basic equipment, such as one excavator, three hoes and a few shovels to distribute the sand evenly within the canal's bed. The canal lining project thus became both a task of tedious manual work and a race against time.

Leveling and distribution of sand in the canal’s base, making of the concrete foundation.

Distributing sand across the canal's mud bed.

Constructing the brick walls and making the cement bed. 

On February 27, after less than six weeks since their closure, the gates of the new canal were re-opened – an event that drew dozens of people from Bir Wahid together on the field. Despite all the difficulty, the original time plan had been followed, and the season’s crops survived. Adel, a Bir Wahid farmer, exclaimed: “The water is running so well, everybody here is very happy!” In turn, Magdy, the president of the Farmers Association of Bir Wahid commented: “It used to take around four hours for water to make its way from the well to my field, now it only takes 20 minutes!” Seeing the finished canal even convinced the more skeptical farmers, who had initially criticized the association’s action plan as just “empty words”. Mohammad, who had been suspicious of the association’s plans for development because of past disappointments with failed government initiatives, expressed his appreciation for the association’s achievement, after seeing the new canal. “The canal is only a first step, and the really important thing is not the canal itself, but the association,” he said. “Now there is an association in Abu Minqar that can actually implement improvement!”

The new canal made an immediate impact on water management and livelihoods in Abu Minqar. The canal prevents water loss and enables farmers to cultivate a much larger area with the same amount of water taken from the finite reserves of the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer. This means real and immediate livelihood improvements for local farmers and is a step towards making more out of the water we have, rather than continuously drilling new wells to access more water from the aquifer. Moreover, the lined canal prevents water logging and salinity build-up in the fields adjacent to the canal.

The finished canal in the irrigation command area of Bir 1. When compared to the unlined state of the canal above, it becomes clear that the canal is a huge improvement in local water management.