Watermelon farming main cause of water shortage in Morocco

The drought in Morocco has pushed rural people toward the city each year

16:34 November 5, 2017

Marrakesh: Taps are running dry in southern Morocco and resarchers have found one of the main culprits: watermelon farming. With a consumption of 7 million cubic metres of water per year, according to a study by the regional hydraulic basin agency, “the watermelon greatly contributed to the water stress in the region,” said Jamal Akchbab, president of the Association of Friends of the Environment in Zagora.

David Goeury, a geographer at Paris IV-La Sorbonne University, said the problem has been brewing for years and some have sought a ban on watermelon farming.

“The problem is that watermelon demands a lot of water, and requires drilling. If the water table is overexploited, its water level will drop or the quality of the water will be altered because it will come into contact with saltwater,” Goeury said.

Zagora “must completely change its drinking water supply model, and get supplies upstream, from a dam,” he added.

The drought in Morocco has pushed rural people toward the city each year. While 90 per cent of Moroccan households in urban areas are connected to the drinking water system, the connection rates in rural areas barely reach 40 per cent.

Experts blame poor crop choices, growing populations and climate change for the water shortages in towns like Zagora, which saw repeated protests for access to clean water last month.

Around Morocco, persistent drought in recent years has reduced gross domestic product in this farm-dependent economy. The government is concerned that the issue of water is becoming a threat to national stability in the kingdom, seen as a steady force in a restive region and key ally with the West in the fight against terrorism.

“The issue of water has always been a priority for Morocco, but today, after two years of drought, we have to move on to higher gear,” said the government’s secretary of state in charge of water, Charafat Afailal.

She told The Associated Press that several projects are underway to strengthen existing infrastructure, including the Agdez dam and a drinking water treatment plant and building wells.

Although water supplies have been restored in Zagora in recent days, residents complain about its poor quality.

“For the last 15 years, the inhabitants of Zagora have been buying drinking water because tap water is undrinkable. We only use it for cleaning,” said Atmane Rizkou, president of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights in Zagora.

But since the summer, “the problem has worsened,” he said.

Dry taps hit women particularly hard, forcing them to go farther and farther afield to draw water to quench children’s thirst and wash family dishes and laundry.