Taps and reservoirs run dry as Moroccan drought hits farmers

Drought have drained reservoirs in southern Morocco, threatening crops. (AFP)
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Updated 22 October 2020

Taps and reservoirs run dry as Moroccan drought hits farmers

  • The problems caused by increasingly erratic rainfall and the depletion of groundwater are growing every year in Morocco

RABAT: Two years of drought have drained reservoirs in southern Morocco, threatening crops the region relies on and leading to nightly cuts in tap water for an area that is home to a million people.

In a country that relies on farming for two jobs in five and 14 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), the problems caused by increasingly erratic rainfall and the depletion of groundwater are growing every year.

In the rich citrus plantations of El-Guerdan, stretching eastward from the southern city of Agadir, more than half of farmers rely on two dams in the mountains of Aoulouz, 126 km away, to irrigate their trees.

However, that water has been diverted to the tourist hub of Agadir, where mains water has been cut to residential areas every night since Oct. 3 to ensure taps in households did not run entirely dry.

“The priority should go to drinking water,” Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch said in parliament last week.

In El-Guerdan, Youssef Jebha’s crop of clementine oranges has been compromised by reduced water supply, he said, which affects both the quality of fruit and the size of the harvest.

“The available ground water is barely enough to keep the trees alive,” said Jebha, who is head of a regional farmers’ association.

“Saving Agadir should not be at the expense of El-Guerdan farmers,” he added, speaking by phone.

‘We hope for rain’

El-Guerdan is not alone in facing drought. Morocco’s harvest of cereals this year was less than half that of 2019, meaning hundreds of millions of dollars of extra import costs.

Despite lower production, Moroccan exports of fresh produce have risen this year by 8 percent. 

Critics of the government’s agricultural policy say such sales are tantamount to exporting water itself, given the crops use up so many resources.

A report by Morocco’s social and environmental council, an official advisory body, warned that four-fifths of the country’s water resources could vanish over the next 25 years.

It also warned of the risks to social peace due to water scarcity. In 2017, 23 people were arrested after protests over water shortages in the southeastern city of Zagora.

In January the government said it would spend $12 billion on boosting water supply over the next seven years by building new dams and desalination plants.

One $480 million plant, with a daily capacity of 400,000 cubic meters, is expected to start pumping in March, with the water divided between residential areas and farms.

Until then, “We hope for rain,” the agriculture minister said in parliament.

In El-Guerdan, the farmers are digging for water. A new well costs $20,000-30,000. However, “there is no guarantee water can be found due to the depletion of ground reserves,” said Ahmed Bounaama, another farmer.


Saudi visa processing centers reopen across the Kingdom

Updated 5 min 57 sec ago

Saudi visa processing centers reopen across the Kingdom

  • Nearly 75% of Visa Application Centers have restarted operations since the disruption caused by COVID-19

RIYADH: Ahead of international travel restarting in Saudi Arabia next year, centers for processing work and travel visa applications have begun to re-open for business across the Kingdom, after the disruption caused by the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We have seen a gradual rise in the number of our Visa Application Centers (VACs) re-opening globally, including Saudi Arabia, which has been very reassuring for us. Out of 28 governments that we serve in the Kingdom, we have resumed operations for 20 countries as of November 2020,” Sumanth Kapoor, regional head for Saudi Arabia at VFS Global, told Arab News.

VFS Global is the world’s largest visa outsourcing and technology services specialist for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide. Headquartered in Switzerland, the company has 3,430 VACs in 144 countries across five continents, and as of September 2020 it has processed more than 225 million applications.

Kapoor said that while VFS Global’s business has begun to return to normal, it was important to note that the official re-opening of VACs is dependent on approval from both local authorities and the embassy in question.

Furthermore, being able to apply for a visa does not necessarily mean that an applicant will automatically be able to travel to their desired country. “We suggest that all travellers check official government advisories of the destination country and airlines’ requirements, so they are aware of the current status concerning international travel,” he said.

Ahead of all centers reopening, the company earlier this summer launched a new service called Visa At Your Doorstep (VAYD), where a VFS Global executive travels to an applicant’s home to process the visa application documentation and carry out the biometrics.

Kapoor said the VAYD service was an example of how their business has adjusted to the challenges presented by COVID-19. “Health and safety before and during travel will play a much more critical role, and we are observing a gradually changing customer requirement trend towards more personalized, digital and at-your-doorstep services,” he said.

“Although we have reopened around 75 percent of the VACs across the country, the circumstances are new to everybody involved — customers, client governments, local authorities and ourselves,” he added.

On which countries are proving most popular with Saudis for visas, Kapoor said it was difficult to identify specific trends: “Europe has always been a favorite travel destination for Saudis. However, because of the unprecedented events this year, trends within the Kingdom are not as conclusive as previous years.”

While Saudi authorities are planning to reopen international borders at the end of the year, Kapoor said that freedom to travel would still be constrained: “Travel plans also depend on the quarantine rules and flight availability of the destination country.”

VFS Global’s offices overseas have begun accepting applications from those wanting visas to travel to the Kingdom. 

“We have started accepting visa applications for all available categories, with the exception of Tourist Visa. Our centers are accepting applications for biometric enrolment which is a mandatory step for all work visa applicants,” Kapoor said.

Despite disruption to services as a result of COVID-19, Kapoor said its passport processing services had not been significantly affected. “Throughout the recent difficulties, there has not been significant impact on our passport and consular services that we offer to Indian and Philippine citizens in the Kingdom,” he said.

“Our centers offering passport and consular services have remained operational even during the pandemic with all safety and preventative measures in place.”

In addition, the company also conducted special tours around the Kingdom to collect Indian passport renewal applications in various cities and towns, due to the high demand from Indian nationals. These took place in Bisha, Jizan, Madinah and Najran in the western region, as well as in Sakaka, Arar, Hafr Al Batin, Khafji and Wadi Dawasir.


VFS GLOBAL FAQS

To outline the changes implemented as a result of COVID-19, VFS Global has compiled the following frequently asked questions:

1. Do I need to bring a COVID 19-related medical certificate when I visit the Visa Application Center? 

VFS Global does not seek any COVID-19-related medical certificates. Medical certificates may be required for visa applications for some countries as per the official checklist.

2. If the visa I received for a country before lockdown has expired, do I need to apply again? 

Yes, if your visa has expired for any country, or is due to expire soon, you may need to re-apply for a new visa for that particular country. If you are already in a foreign country and your visa is due to expire, go to the relevant visa or immigration authorities of that country for assistance.

3. Can I apply for my visa at my home or office to maintain physical distancing precautions? 

Yes. Choose our Visa At Your Doorstep service for a convenient visa application process from the safety and comfort of your home or office. Available for select destination countries.

4. Do I need to follow health, safety and physical distancing norms at the Visa Application Centers? 

Yes. For your safety and that of our employees, it is important to adhere to the health and safety guidelines issued by local health authorities such as temperature checks, physical distancing and other safety norms.

5. Can I ask for my passport to be delivered to my address?

Yes. You can choose our optional Courier Service to get your passport delivered to your doorstep for any new visa applications submitted at re-opened centers.