Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt

In This Review

Cultivating the Nile: The Everyday Politics of Water in Egypt
by Jessica Barnes
Duke University Press Books, 2014
248 pp. $89.95
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For its significant water needs, Egypt depends entirely on the Nile River—to which it contributes not a drop. But Barnes argues that water scarcity in Egypt is not a “given” but rather “made,” through the interactions of bureaucrats, donors, and consumers. She reveals a perverse imbalance of supply and demand: some regions, such as the Toshka area, have an excess of water, which they literally dump in the desert, while in others, such as Faiyum, water scarcity means that bureaucrats choose winners and losers among farmers. To increase their leverage, farmers employ a variety of tools: forming water-user associations, subleasing reclaimed land in order to gain access to state-supplied irrigation water, and sometimes simply stealing water. Among other fascinating details that Barnes describes is the country’s massive system of underground drains; if laid end to end, the drains would circle the globe multiple times.