Morocco: Unprecedented drought raises fears of severe water shortage

Morocco has been hit hard by the worst drought in nearly 40 years, a natural disaster that has raised fears of severe shortages of drinking water this year, a consequence of climate change and water mismanagement.

“The country hasn’t had this situation since the early 1980s,” Abderrahim Henduf, a water policy specialist, told AFP.

Whereas in the past the drought recurring in Morocco mainly affected the rural areas and the agricultural sector, it is now affecting the “drinking water supply of urban areas,” as Nizar Baraka, Minister of Equipment and Water Resources, recently warned in front of MPs.

Since September 2021, the country has experienced a severe rainfall deficit and an alarming drop in dam reserves of almost 89% compared to the annual average, according to official statistics, long subject to climate fluctuations.

This deficit is “an alarming figure, even if it has been reduced by preventive measures to avoid water shortages,” Abdelaziz Zeruali, director of water resources research and planning, admitted in a TV interview.

Two major cities, Marrakech (south), the tourist capital, and Oujda (east), have avoided the worst by resorting to groundwater since late December to secure their supplies.

– “Real climate change” –

To contain the devastating effects of the drought, the government released in mid-February a program to help the agricultural sector, the leading contributor to GDP (14%), ahead of tourism and industry and the main source of jobs in rural areas. almost a billion euros.

But in the long term, “we need to change our vision of the problem of water. Climate change is real and we must prepare to confront it,” Mr Zerouali warned during a “Right to Water” conference in Rabat.

With only 600 cubic meters of water per inhabitant per year, Morocco is well below the water scarcity threshold. For comparison, water availability in the 1960s was four times greater than 2600 m3.

A farmer walks through his dry melon field, devastated by high salinity water taken from the Muluya River, near the town of Saïdia in northeastern Morocco. File photo taken November 2, 2021 (AFP/Archive – FADEL SENNA)

In addition to environmental factors, “high demand for water” and “overexploitation of groundwater” contribute to increased pressure on water resources, stresses Minister Nizar Baraka.

Writing for the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis (MIPA), researcher Amal Ennabih estimates that water scarcity is “deeply linked to how this resource is used for irrigation, consuming about 80% of Morocco’s water each year.”

The situation is all the more alarming given that only 10% of agricultural land is irrigated, said Abderrahim Hendouf, an expert who advocates reducing the overweight of the agricultural sector in the Moroccan economy.

– “Delays” –

The Sheriff Kingdom mainly relies on the desalination of sea water to replenish water shortages, a process of pollution due to the brine produced. But the launch of the program is facing “delays”. The Casablanca desalination plant is still under construction, and from 2025 the economic metropolis is threatened with water shortages.

In another example, a delay in the delivery of a desalination plant in the seaside resort of Saidia (northeast) “caused shortages” in nearby towns, according to Mr. Barak.

A man rides his motorcycle past dead palm trees in the Moroccan oasis of Skoura, a rural oasis of about 40 square kilometers.  File photo taken on January 27, 2020. (AFP/Archive - FADEL SENNA)
A man rides his motorcycle past dead palm trees in the Moroccan oasis of Skoura, a rural oasis of about 40 square kilometers. File photo taken on January 27, 2020. (AFP/Archive – FADEL SENNA)

In addition, the construction of 15 dams is delayed.

The threat of shortage of drinking water hung over the tourist city of Agadir, up to 70% in March compared to its needs. According to official figures, the risk was averted, in part, thanks to a new desalination plant in the capital of Morocco’s most important agricultural region.

The draconian measures introduced in Agadir in the fall of 2020 – turning off the water in the taps at night – are now only a bad memory.

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