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Morocco: The value of water

May 13, 2016

​Morocco is a partially arid country where rain is rare but where agriculture prospers in spite of everything. Climate change has nevertheless had a major impact on Morocco in recent years. Precipitation has decreased by 20%, and heat and cold waves are increasingly frequent.

“Morocco hasn’t contributed much to climate change, but it’s one of the countries that has been most severely affected by its consequences,” explains Moulay Driss Hasnaoui. The water resources expert is part of a research group in Rabat at the École Mohammadia d’ingénieurs, who is interested in the effects that climate change has on water, agriculture, and health, more specifically in the Haute-Moulouya region in
north-eastern Morocco.

Prolonged periods of extreme temperatures in rural regions upsets the residents’ way of life. “This creates an exodus of populations to the cities,” explains Hasnaoui. “It also leads to the de-schooling of girls, since they have to go farther to get water during droughts, leaving them less time for school.” Moreover, the chergui, a hot, dry wind from the Sahara, kills the vegetation.

By collecting hydrometeorological data from the region, the researchers developed a mathematical model that predicts, in the medium term, the evolution of these climate episodes. “Thanks to this model, we can anticipate the situation and thus prevent agricultural as well as human health disasters,” explains the researcher. Inhabitants of an affected region will be able to gather more heating wood to survive a cold spell or to irrigate their land more abundantly if there is a risk that a drought will last longer.

The researchers affirm that a forecasting tool will be developed sometime in the future. The models built by the research group will also be used for long-term forecasting. “This will help us analyze scenarios in order to optimize water use on the basis of climate change,” says Driss Ouazar, the project’s director and a water resources expert.

Another important objective is the design of new dams that are better adapted to variations in water resources. For the most part, current work is being done on friable land. When rain is abundant, the earth’s sediments are washed toward the dams and degrade the water’s quality.

The water department has expressed a serious interest in the research being done by the École Mohammadia d’ingénieurs group. Ouazar says that the government hopes to put this research into practice in other parts of Morocco, adding that this would also be useful elsewhere in the Sahel region, where the same problems are arising. “This is part of Morocco’s green plan,” he specifies. “It means optimizing every drop of water.”

The original French version of this article was published in the December 2015 issue of Québec Science.