Version: March 97

 Algeria is part of the African survey as well as the Near East survey. The more recent one being the Near East, the link to General Summary leads to the General Summary Near East. However the General Summary Africa (accessible from the Aquastat homepage) allows for the Algerian information.


Algeria, with a total area of about 2.4 million km2, is located in the north-western part of the African continent overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in the north. It is bordered by Tunisia and Libya to the east, Niger, Mali and Mauritania to the south and Morocco to the west. The country can be divided into three physiographic units:

  • The Atlas Mountains. They consist of two principal mountain chains: the El-Atlas El-Talli Mountains, ex-tending along a narrow coastal strip, and the Desert Atlas Mountains with peaks over 2 300 metres above sea level. The two chains are separated by hills that contain a group of de-pressions known as El-Shatout.
  • The South and South-east Hills. They are a group of isolated hills in the north of the Great Desert called El-AhjarHills with a peak of over 3 000 metres above sea level.
  • The Hilly Coastal Depressions. They include the region separating the Atlas Mountains and the El-Ahjar Hills. The elevation is 350 metres in the south-west and about 100 metres in the north-east. The minimum elevation is 21 metres below sea level. Sand dunes are scattered all over this region.
The cultivable area is estimated at about 10.74 million ha, which is 3% of the total area of the country. In 1993, the total area available for agriculture was estimated at about 8.10 million ha, of which 4.73 million ha, or almost 60%, were temporarily fallow. Of the remaining cultivated area of 3.37 million ha, 2.84 million ha consisted of annual crops and 0.53 million ha consisted of permanent crops. Agricultural development is concentrated in the northern part of the country, where the best soils are located and where the climatic conditions are more favourable. The total population is about 15.6 million (1995), of which 44% is rural. The annual demographic growth rate is estimated at 3.2%. Agriculture employs 25% of the labour force and accounts for 9 to 13% of GDP, depending on the year.

Climate and water resources

The climate varies from the desert type in the south to Mediterranean in the north. Average annual rainfall is about 68 mm, but varies from 0 mm in the southern desert up to 1 500 mm in the north-eastern coastal area around Skikda. However, even in this region the dry season lasts five months. Precipitation, which mainly occurs in winter and the beginning of spring, is very irregular with considerable variations from year to year.

Internal renewable water resources are estimated at 13.9 km3/year. Incoming surface water has been estimated at 0.4 km3/year, of which 0.2 km3 from Morocco and 0.2 km3 from Tunisia. The water resources, that are potentially available for use in the northern part of the country and the high plateaux have been estimated at 8.1 km3/year, of which 6.5 km3 is surface water to be regulated by dams and 1.6 km3 is groundwater. The safe yield of fossil water in the Sahara varies between 2 and 5 km3/year according to different hypotheses. However, the extraction of this fossil water is expensive. In 1992, 79 dams had been constructed or were under construction with a total dam capacity of 4.3 km3. The total capacity of dams for irrigation under the schemes of the Regional Offices (see below) was estimated at about 1.2 km3. In 1990, total water withdrawal was estimated at 4.5 km3, of which 60% for agricultural purposes.


Irrigation potential has been estimated at 1.24 million ha considering soil resources. If available water resources are also considered, this potential has been estimated at 730 000 ha; if only renewable water resources are considered, it has been estimated at about 510 000 ha. It should be noted that during the very dry period of the years 1980-90, the available water resources were far from sufficient to irrigate the area already equipped for full or partial control irrigation. Irrigation is now of fundamental importance in Algeria, not only for winter crops, but also for spring and summer crops. In 1992, the total water managed area was estimated at 555 500 ha, of which 110 000 ha benefited from spate irrigation, while 445 500 ha were full or partial control irrigation schemes. The latter can be divided into 45 000 ha of oases located in the south of the country and 400 500 ha of schemes in the north of the country which are usually divided into 'large schemes' and 'small to medium schemes'. There are 17 large schemes, the size of which varies between 2 200 and 22 500 ha, with a total area of 175 500 ha. They can be regrouped according to which authority is responsible.

  • 10 schemes, from 2 200 to 22 500 ha, regrouped into four Regional Offices (OPIR or Offices de périmètres irrigués régionaux) at El Tarf, Mitjdja, Cheliff and Habre-Sig. The total equipped area is 146 200 ha of which only 80 100 ha are irrigated on a fairly regular basis. The reasons for this are shortage of water, the deterioration of the infrastructures and the abandonment of soils due to salinization. In fact, in 1991 only 32 000 ha were actually irrigated, or 22% of the equipped area, because of a water shortage that year. Most of the schemes are old, 63% having been equipped between 1937 and 1943.
  • 7 schemes, from 3 000 to 5 500 ha, regrouped into seven Wilaya Offices (OPIW or Offices de périmètres irrigués de Wilaya). The total equipped area is 29 300 ha of which 16 200 ha are irrigated on a fairly regular basis for the same reasons as explained above. In 1991, only 10 000 ha were actually irrigated, or 34% of the equipped area. Most of these schemes were constructed more recently than the OPIR schemes.
The Saf Saf irrigation scheme, formerly linked to its Wilaya, has been incorporated in the OPIR of El Tarf in 1992, in which the scheme of Guelma, with a total area of 12 000 ha (under construction in 1993), will also be incorporated (this area has not yet been included in the above figures). Of the total equipped area of 96 300 ha of the OPIR and OPIW which is irrigated on a fairly regular basis, 62 560 ha are irrigated by surface irrigation techniques, while sprinkler irrigation is practised on 33 740 ha. In the large schemes (OPIR and OPIW), fruit trees are grown on about 31 000 ha, which represents only 17% of the equipped area but 74% of the area actually irrigated in these schemes in 1991. Priority is given to fruit trees in periods of water shortage. Consequently, in order to avoid frequent restrictions in water distribution to the vegetable crops, many farmers have dug wells on the schemes themselves. The average cost of irrigation development in the large schemes has been put at $US 11 000/ha for surface irrigation and $US 15 000/ha for sprinkler irrigation. Water charges, which in Algerian Dinar (DA) remained the same between 1985 and 1992, were DA 0.35/m3 ($US 0.046 in 1989, but only $US 0.015 in 1992). This amount does not cover operation and maintenance costs. The small and medium schemes covered 225 000 ha in 1992 and were irrigated from open wells, tubewells, small lakes in the hills formed by earth dams, or from small rivers from which water is diverted or pumped. The major irrigated crops in the full or partial control irrigation schemes are vegetables, fruit trees and palm trees.


The following authorities are involved in the water sector:

  • The Ministry of Equipment and Housing (MEL or Ministère de l'équipement et du logement). This Ministry covers all the activities of research, exploitation, production, storage and distribution of water for all uses.
At the central level, there are four departments:
  • Direction de la planification des affaires économiques (DPI, economic planning);
  • Direction des grands aménagements et des infrastructures hydrauliques (DGAIH, large-scale water infrastructure);
  • Direction de l'irrigation de petite et moyenne hydraulique (DIPMH, small- to medium-scale water infrastructure);
  • Direction de la réglementation, de la protection et de l'usage de l'eau (DRPUE, water regulation, conservation and use).
The agencies, placed under the responsibility of MEL, are:
  • Agence nationale pour les ressources hydrauliques (ANRH, water resources);
  • Agence nationale des barrages (ANB, dams); 
The Ministry of Agriculture (MA or Ministère de l'Agriculture). The following departments are concerned with irrigation:
  • Direction de la vulgarisation et des institutions rurales (DVIR, extension, rural institutions);
  • Direction du génie rural (DGR, rural engineering).
Several institutions at regional level:
  • the 4 OPIR under the MEL;
  • the 7 OPIW under the Wali (Wilaya);
  • a Hydraulic Service (under the MEL) for every Wilaya;
  • a Direction of the Agricultural Services (under the MA) for every Wilaya.
A water law was passed on 17 July 1992.


Water resources in Algeria are limited and need to be preserved. Special attention has to be paid to the siltation of the dams, which sometimes reaches worrying levels. The worst case is the Cheurfas dam where, according to some estimates, the siltation has reached 96%.A close eye also needs to be kept on the quality of the soils. As far as the irrigated areas are concerned, soil salinization has worsened during the dry years of the 1980s and some soils are becoming sterile. On the other hand, the area needing drainage in the OPIR has been estimated at 61 000 ha. One-third of the cultivated land in Algeria has a slope of more than 12.5%, which poses erosion and soil conservation problems. At the beginning of the 1990s Algeria drew up an extensive programme of rehabilitation and extension for the existing schemes, which should bring the total area equipped and irrigated in the north of the country up to 500 000 ha by the year 2010.


FAO. 1992. Algérie: projet d'appui ˆ l'irrigation (PAI). Rapport d'identification.

FAO Investment Centre. Cooperation programme FAO/World Bank. Report No 4/92 CP-ALG 36. Rome.

Pérennes, J.J. 1993. L'eau et les hommes au Maghreb: Contribution ˆ une politique de l'eau en Méditerranée. Karthala. CNRS.

World Bank. 1988. Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria: Irrigation Engineering Project. Washington DC.

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