Although water is relatively abundant in the Maghreb, climatic and spatial factors make this a scarce resource. Despite major investment, shortage of water supplies has grown as a result of the combined forces of urbanisation, industrialisation and the increased demand from agriculture (also clearly linked to strong demographic growth). Recognition of this fact gives rise to a wider reflection on the way in which the problem of scarcity is managed : it seems that there is gradual shift away from a situation where the needs of irrigation determined the use of water, a system which became widrespread under colonial management. Currently North African countries are attempting to regulate consumption by legal means (water code) and by economic measures (tariff policies) but the results will never match the scale of the problem aslongasthe "social actors" affected by such measures are not involved in theprocess. Water remains the ally of the powerful.