Struggling Morocco oasis risks becoming mirage

A man walks over a dried irrigation canal in Morocco’s oasis of Skoura. (AFP)
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Updated 15 February 2020

Struggling Morocco oasis risks becoming mirage

  • Residents say they now need to dig down over 40 meters to find water, compared to seven to 10 meters in the 1980s

SKOURA, MOROCCO: Dead palm trees lie on dry, yellowish earth near an abandoned adobe house in Morocco’s arid southeast, as drought threatens ancient oases.
“I grew up in this oasis and I have seen it shrink,” says 53-year-old Mohamed El-Houkari, who lives in Skoura, a rural oasis area of around 40 sq. km.
For centuries, Morocco’s oases have been home to human settlements, agriculture, and important architectural and cultural heritage, thanks also to trans-Saharan trade caravan routes.
Long a buffer against desertification, they have gone through cycles of drought in recent decades and are now “threatened with extinction,” Greenpeace has warned, due to the impact of high temperatures. In most of the Skoura oasis, the ground is dry and cracked.
Until the 1980s, “pomegranate and apple trees flourished here,” says Houkari, who is also part of a local development NGO. Now, only hardy olive trees grow in the shadow of the palms.
The Skoura region used to attract farmers. These days, most young people work elsewhere, though some stay for the developing tourism sector.
“I am ready to sell my land, but there is nobody to buy it. Everyone has left,” says Ahmed, a farmer.
The man in his 50s settled in Skoura with his family 25 years ago, “when the area was green and there was plenty of water. But the drought has destroyed everything.”
Electrician Abdeljalil spends most of his time between the cities of Marrakesh and Agadir.
“Our life isn’t here anymore,” the 37-year-old says. He observes that the use of electric pumps and has contributed to the overexploitation of the groundwater.
Residents say they now need to dig down over 40 meters to find water, compared to seven to 10 meters in the 1980s.
Houkari laments the abandonment of traditional methods — like the “khatarat” canal irrigation system — that allowed water to be distributed “economically and rationally.” Using the pumps is also costly, Ahmed, the farmer complains.
Morocco’s high level of water stress does not just affect life in the oases. In 2017, protests were held in the semi-desert southern town of Zagora against repeated water cuts.
This year, the kingdom launched an almost $12 billion national program for the supply of potable and irrigation water through to 2027.
Under a separate initiative, “we set ourselves the goal of mobilizing 1 billion cubic meters of water by the end of 2020,” says Brahim Hafidi, director-general of the national agency for the development of oasis zones (ANDZOA), referring to efforts to build dams and rehabilitate irrigation canals.

FASTFACT

For centuries, Morocco’s oases have been home to human settlements, agriculture and noted architectural and cultural heritage, thanks also to trans-Saharan trade caravan routes. .

According to Greenpeace, droughts have increased in frequency in Tunisia, Morocco, Syria and Algeria over the past decades, rising from once every five years to once every two years in Morocco.
“Oases rely on subterranean waters, which generally come from snow,” notes Lahcen El-Maimouni, a local academic, who says global warming has hurt the oases.
The Atlas mountains, visible on the horizon from Skoura, are capped in white.
But the snow is not enough to sustain the dry beds of the wadis that cross the oasis, and the effects of drought are visible along the rugged road that leads to Skoura.
To rehabilitate oasis areas, ANDZOA has planted 3 million trees, the agency’s director-general says.
Morocco has lost two-thirds of its 14 million palms over the last century, according to official figures.
But for Skoura resident Houkari, saving the oases also requires raising awareness of the risk of desertification.
Palm trees have even been removed and sold to villa owners, he adds with regret.
“The danger of the oases disappearing is very real,” he says, in front of a dry irrigation canal.


If Lebanon needs financial aid, France will be there: Finance Minister Le Maire

Updated 33 min 2 sec ago

If Lebanon needs financial aid, France will be there: Finance Minister Le Maire

  • Le Maire said France is looking at options to support Lebanon recover from its financial crisis
  • IMF discussed all possible options in recent meetings with Lebanese officials

RIYADH: France is ready to support Lebanon financially — bilaterally or multilaterally — its finance minister said on Sunday, warning against mixing economic recovery in the small Mediterranean state with US-led efforts to counter Iran in the region.
“France always stands ready to help Lebanon. It has always been the case in the past and it will be the case in the future...” Bruno Le Maire told Reuters at the end of a meeting of finance officials from the Group of 20 (G20) major economies.
“If there is any help required from Lebanon, France will be there.”
Le Maire said in Abu Dhabi on Monday that France is looking at options to support Lebanon recover from its financial crisis, including through an International Monetary Fund program if Beirut seeks one.
He also told reporters he discussed the situation in Lebanon with the United Arab Emirates leadership.
Lebanon’s long-brewing economic crisis spiralled last year as the country’s capital inflows slowed and protests erupted against the ruling elite.
As the crisis deepens, hitting ordinary Lebanese hard, there is no sign of foreign aid. Western and Gulf Arab states that helped in the past have made clear that any support hinges on Beirut implementing long-delayed reforms to address root causes such as state corruption and bad governance.
Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said on Sunday the Kingdom was in contact with allies and international bodies to coordinate any support for Lebanon on the basis of economic reforms proposed by Beirut.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Reuters in an interview that Washington was keeping a close eye on the situation. “It’s something we’re monitoring – both the political and economic issues there,” he said. “Our interest is in the people of Lebanon. We want there to be safe environment where they can succeed economically and live as they want to.”
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) team has discussed all possible options in recent meetings with Lebanese officials, who are seeking technical advice for tackling the crisis as Beirut mulls a plan for dealing with fast-approaching debt payments.
Le Maire said decisions by Lebanon’s government were urgently needed to improve the situation on the ground. “We want to move in the official fora and we think that the IMF might have a role to play at one stage, but it’s up to the Lebanese government to decide,” he said. “But if there is any need for help, either bilateral or multilateral, we stand ready to help.”
Since protests erupted in October, Lebanon’s currency has slumped by roughly 60% on a parallel market, dollars have become scarce, prices have been hiked and thousands of jobs have been shed.
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government took office last month with the backing of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite group, and its allies, as Washington presses its policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran with wide-ranging sanctions.
“We know that there are ties between the two issues but we don’t want to mix the issue of economic recovery in Lebanon, which is today the clear emergency, and the question of Iran,” Le Maire added.