Irrigation in the Mediterranean. Technologies, institutions and policies (Molle, Sanchis-Ibor, Avellà-Reus, 2019)

Tony Allan

dripMolle, F.; Sanchis-Ibor, C. and Avellà-Reus, L. 2019. Irrigation in the Mediterranean. Technologies, institutions and policies. Series 'Global Issues in Water Policy' No 22, Springer. ISBN 978-3-030-03698-0 (hard cover), 320 p., €106,99.


Tony Allan

King’s College, London, UK; 


To cite this Review: Allan, T. 2020. Review of “Irrigation in the Mediterranean. Technologies, institutions and policies”, Routledge, 2019, by Molle, F.; Sanchis Ibor, C. and Avellà-Reus, L., Water Alternatives,


The Mediterranean is blessed with ideal temperatures for crop production but not enough water. Irrigation, which tends to consume very high proportions of freshwater water resources - over 80% - in semi-arid and arid countries, has played a very important and sustainable role in the very long history of Mediterranean civilization. For millennia, irrigation technologies were sustainable as were the demands for water. This book, however, is mainly about the second half of the twentieth century until the present when more powerful irrigation technologies have been installed. In the same period populations in the eastern and southern economies have doubled every 30 years. By 1970 every economy in the region was pumping and diverting more water than fell as effective rainfall. The recharge of rivers and aquifers was progressively less able to meet consumptive demands. In addition consumers - often in better watered regions than the Mediterranean - happily imported high value fruit and grown with unvalued scarce Mediterranean freshwater.

This ambitious and well-conceived analysis examines the governance of water resources in eight of the economies of the Mediterranean. Spain, France and Italy in the EU. Turkey, Israel and Egypt in the east of the region and Tunisia and Morocco in the south-west. The water endowments and levels of development are diverse; as are the approaches to management and regulation. At one extreme the region has the biggest man-made storage in the world at Aswan (168 Bm3) and in Egypt’s irrigation system it has possibly the biggest pump in the world. At the other extreme it has vast tracts of desert on its southern shores. In most of the eight economies reviewed the governance of groundwater and water ecologies are inadequate. Water accounting systems either don’t exist or are ineffective. Levels of water extraction are not capped and illegal wells cannot be closed. Israel has the highest GDP per head in the Basin showing that water endowments do not determine economic outcomes nor the capacity to steward water scarce environments. It has succeeded in ensuring a version of food and water security - via sustainable local food production and food imports. Meanwhile, France and Italy enjoy levels of GDP per head that put them in the top 25 economies globally. But like the rest of economies in the Basin they struggle to regulate the abstraction of water for irrigation.

The structure of the analysis is set out in the first chapter authored by the editors.  They identify the four phases of water allocation and management well known to water resource professionals. The authors provide well observed and critical analyses of how the eight economies have handled the four phases. These are known as supply management, demand management, integrated water resource management and the more ambitious current approach in which water services are considered as one of three supply chains - water, energy and food - that should use and consume resources optimally.

The major strength of the book is that seven of the eight country chapters are written by respected professionals and scientists from the country being reviewed. The analysis is very rich. It will satisfy those who know their own unique national water governance history. The technical, institutional and policy detail is very well observed. At the same time the book will be very useful for those who need to know the irrigation and water governance history of the eight economies.



Additional Info

  • Authors: F. Molle, C. Sanchis Ibor and L. Avellà-Reus
  • Year of publication: 2019
  • Publisher: Springer
  • Reviewer: Tony Allan
  • Subject: Water policy, Water governance, Agricultural water use, Irrigation, Environment, Groundwater, Climate change
  • Type: Review
  • Language: English