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Moroccan drought dries up water reserves and impacts farmers

  • Moroccan drought dries up water reserves and impacts farmers

Morocco has been experiencing a drought for the past two years. Now crop irrigation and the domestic water supply are threatened by low water levels in the reservoirs in the southern part of the country, reports Reuters.

Drought periods tend to be chronic in Morocco, which ranks 22nd among world countries in terms water stress according to the Global Water Risk Atlas of the World Resources Institute. And drought frequency, severity and duration are expected to aggravate due to climate change.

Morocco’s agricultural sector accounts for 14-20% of its GDP, and 43% of all employment (78% in rural areas). With only 15% of the cropland under irrigation, farmers depend on rainfall to a large extent, and drought episodes may have a huge impact on their income. As drought draws down reservoir levels, not only rain-fed crops, but also irrigated cropland is at risk.

In El Guerdan, east of the city of Agadir, more than 50% of citrus farmers depend on the water reserves from two dams in the Aoulouz mountains. But they compete for the precious resource with residents in Agadir – over 900,000 people – already experiencing water cuts since the 3rd of October. The Minister of Agriculture Aziz Akhannouch has said drinking water is the top priority.

Meanwhile, farmers tap the little groundwater available, which risks depletion, and the quality and the size of the harvest is affected. Worth noting, Morocco’s fresh produce exports have increased by 8% this year, even though the production has been lower, something critics warn is the same as exporting water itself.

In January of this year, the government announced $12 billion would be invested in water projects from 2020 to 2027, to secure the water supply and rationalise use, including improving irrigation efficiency. The programme includes building new dams and desalination plants.

Currently a desalination plant is under construction near Agadir, with commercial operations expected to start in 2021. It will supply drinking water and also irrigation water in a second phase. A second desalination plant is planned in Laayoune, in the Western Sahara, to be operational before the end of 2021.

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