Thirst, Drought and Hunger in Morocco
There is a Morocco that asks for water to plant and another that needs water to drink.
The swamps are already at 33% capacity and there is no sign of rain; not even a drop.
The drought in Morocco endangers indispensable harvests in a country where agriculture contributes 14% of GDP, twice as much as tourism.
The people who aspired to sow to eat broke into the scene this week with the death of 15 women in the town of Sidi Bulaalam, about 80 kilometers from the shores bathed by the Atlantic Ocean.
The town and its surroundings suffer the ravages of a decade without rains. Families cannot plant wheat, there is no water to feed livestock.
After waiting for food packages, there was a stampede and 15 women were crushed to death. This is what misery looks like, but only a part.
At the other end of the country, 10 hours away by car to the east, is the town of Zagora, with 30,000 inhabitants at the gates of the desert.
Here, the shortage of water and its mismanagement derived in several protests known as the “protests of thirst”. There were 23 detainees, of which eight remain in jail.
King Mohamed VI of Morocco commissioned in October the head of government, Saadedín el Otmani, to preside over a commission to solve the problems of drinking water and irrigation in the country.
Last Friday, Mohamed VI, as commander of all believers, the highest spiritual authority in the country, ordered that all mosques pray to attract rain to Morocco.
Three weeks before, El Otmani declared: “I apologize publicly to the people of Zagora, because solving the problem is the responsibility of the State.”
“The water that comes out of the tap in our houses cannot be drunk, we buy it in drums from street vendors,” complains Atmán Rizku, president of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH).
“The problem is not so much the drought, but the bad water management. In 2015 there was flooding in Zagora. But that water was lost, it went to the ocean. They have not built anything to keep it. And the problem is getting worse and worse with the massive plantations of watermelons. “
The watermelons of Zagora, explains Rizku, are collected in April and May, before most of the world. “That’s why they leave so much profit,” he adds. “They started to grow on a large scale in 2007. There were barely 1000 hectares dedicated to local cultivation. And now there are 10,000. Producers have appropriated land whose waters would have to be dedicated to human consumption. My association has been reporting this problem since 2009. We warned that we could run out of water. And now we have reached that point.”
Until 2016 there was water at home; It was salty, but there was. “For eight months, however, neighbourhoods in the high areas have hardly any water and those in the low areas have only three or four hours a day. “
AkchabaYamal, president of the Association of Friends of the Environment, states: “We have been suffering from salt water for decades without the State having ever paid any attention to our complaints. But the problem has worsened in the last three years because of the watermelon plantations. This summer, we were three weeks without water, neither to drink nor to wash. And at the feast of the lamb, in September, people did not even have water to wash the animal. “
Zagora is at the gates of the Sahara, but before arriving there the traveler can appreciate an oasis that extends through the Draa Valley for almost 100 kilometers, with a width that sometimes reaches five kilometers.
From the road you can see tens of thousands of palm trees surrounded by ocher mountains. The oasis and the desert attract tourism. But tourism is in decline and watermelons are booming.
From there come many of the watermelons that supply Morocco, Mauritania, Europe and Russia.
“The tourists are very surprised that watermelons can be planted in such an arid place,” warns AkchabaYamal. “But the people of Europe have to know that those watermelons are leaving us without water. The big watermelon companies bring foreign exchange and work. But the counterpart is the thirst of the people. If we continue like this, we will end the oasis and the watermelon plantations because there will not be water left for anyone. “
Mohamed El Mehdi Saidi, professor of Climatology and Hydrology at the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech said this week at HuffpostMagreb: “If the rain does not start arriving in the coming days, the entire agricultural season will be affected. And all the economic forecasts will have to be reviewed.
It’s not just about getting restless, it’s about being alarmed. ” The Moroccan newspaper L’Economiste affirmed last Friday that the whole country has become an immense waiting room. A room where 15 women died in the middle of their misery.
In the short term, it only remains to look at the sky and pray.