The waters of the Nile are fundamental to life in Egypt. In this compelling ethnography, Jessica Barnes explores the everyday politics of water: a politics anchored in the mundane yet vital acts of blocking, releasing, channeling, and diverting water. She examines the quotidian practices of farmers, government engineers, and international donors as they interact with the waters of the Nile flowing into and through Egypt.
Situating these local practices in relation to broader processes that affect Nile waters, Barnes moves back and forth from farmer to government ministry, from irrigation canal to international water conference. By showing how the waters of the Nile are constantly made and remade as a resource by people in and outside Egypt, she demonstrates the range of political dynamics, social relations, and technological interventions that must be incorporated into understandings of water and its management.
"Cultivating the Nile is an impressive account of something we know little about despite its growing urgency: the causes of water scarcity in any particular region and the ways that the people affected deal with it. A significant contribution to the growing literature on water sustainability around the world, Cultivating the Nile is likely to be discussed for years to come."
– Steven C. Caton, Harvard University
"Readers will be drawn to this book for the timeliness of its topic, an examination of a major case of scarcity of water, the most basic of all resources. They will read it closely, finding it one of the very few academic books that is genuinely a page-turner, with its vivid narration, powerful evocations of daily life, and provocative insights into the workings of power. And they will remember it because it will make them understand water in a new way, as a substance that has a social life as well as a material existence."
– Ben Orlove, Columbia University
A Note on Transliteration, Units, and Abbreviations vii
1. The End of a River 1
2. The Nile's Nadir: The Production of Scarcity 35
3. Fluid Governance: Water User Associations and Practices of Participation 72
4. Irrigating the Desert, Deserting the Irrigated: Land Reclamation at the Margins 106
5. Flows of Drainage: The Politics of Excess 137
6. Making Egypt's Water 169
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Jessica Barnes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment and Sustainability Program at the University of South Carolina.