Adapting to a new environmental reality in Morocco
How one project is helping a part of the North African country innovate to weather the effects of a changing climate
Posted by Alanna Mitchell on July 19, 2016
Ten women who can barely read or write. Six remote, impoverished villages nestled in the High Atlas Mountains, near Marrakesh, Morocco. An increase in flash floods that contaminate water for days. The vulnerable, especially children and the elderly, who fall ill when they drink it anyway.
How to help them cope? One idea is to give the 10 women tablet computers, internet connections and a dedicated Facebook page, and then teach them how to stay in touch.
Why the women? They are the de facto heads of their households, eking out a living running local restaurants, working in agriculture or as temporary employees while their husbands work in Marrakesh. When the floods come, it’s the women who must deal with the catastrophic fallout. And they do it with courage and creativity, says Diane Pruneau, a professor of environmental education at the University of Moncton, whose team developed the Facebook project.
Researchers taught the women how to use the computers, explaining how to take photographs and videos, and then post them, along with comments. The researchers chose Facebook because it’s simple to use. Before the training, the women had not known each other, despite living in villages strung along the Ourika River.
During a recent flood, as the river swelled unexpectedly and put their villages in peril, the women set up a system to warn each other. Those upstream posted pictures and video and wrote comments to let the women in villages downstream know what was happening.
After the flood, they experimented with home-made water filtration systems using sand, rocks, charcoal or fabric, taking photos of them and sharing the information with others on Facebook. Eventually, they came up with new ways of managing scarce water resources, and are exploring ways of protecting their homes during floods, meaning that they can teach other villagers, too.
Pruneau’s Facebook group is part of a $650,000, three-year program called Gestion integrée des Ressources en Eau & Paiement des Services Environnmentaux, or GIREPSE, which is funded by the International Development Research Centre to help vulnerable communities in the High Atlas Mountains weather changes stemming from climate change and other types of environmental degradation.
Those problems are getting worse, says Abdellatif Khattabi, president of the Association Marocaine des Sciences Régionales who heads the project in Morocco. Climate change is already affecting Morocco, leading to droughts. Rains now arrive in odd, vast torrents that the land is less able to absorb. Not only that, but the rains are less predictable than they used to be and air temperatures are higher.
At the same time, tree-cutting in the hills that feed the watershed has decreased forest cover, and agriculture is intensifying, but land-management practices to preserve water are not keeping up with the changes. It adds up to more intense flooding, says Heidi Braun the IDRC officer in charge of the program. Mega floods that used to happen only once or twice a century now happen far more often.
And pressures are growing on what little water there is. Marrakesh’s population is increasing; tourists are flocking to the Ourika basin in summer and winter; industry and agriculture are consuming more water. Worse, analysts predict that as climate change intensifies, less rain will fall on the area each year on average — although in more dramatic storms — and the temperature will continue to rise, causing greater evaporation.
The GIREPSE project is exploring a raft of innovative coping mechanisms for these problems. For example, could tourists pay a small environmental tax to support water conservation? Could increasing and maintaining agricultural practices such as terracing reduce erosion? Could villagers make a money from preserving fruit crops so they could sell them at higher prices throughout the year?
Meanwhile, the Facebook group has been an early and exciting success story about the ability of villagers to adapt to the coming changes, says Khattabi. But both he and Pruneau say that the project has had intriguing side benefits that go far beyond adapting to climate change. As the women communicated with each other, they began to believe that their observations and even their opinions about the floods mattered. They liked being heard. They even began sharing views about other issues they face. Perhaps most important of all, they began to believe that their actions can make lives better for themselves and their families.
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This is part of an ongoing series of stories on international development projects supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre, presented in partnership with Canadian Geographic. The stories appear online once a month at idrc.canadiangeographic.ca.
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