Traditional water management in arid and semi arid areas:
Case studies of the Gheris oasis and the Figuig oasis, Morocco

Although water is certainly scarce on the surface of the desert it can be found at the subterranean level. Humans, thousands of years ago, came up with an ingenious system that ensured water for their settlements and for irrigation of their vegetated lands, the oases. The oases, these islands of vegetation in the middle of the desert are not natural, as thought by many, but entirely artificial systems of vegetation. They are the result of hard work and the practical application of techniques suited to the harsh environment; the product of knowledge and skill passed on from generation to generation and from culture to culture.

Obviously, the survival of an oasis depends entirely on water. The foggara system for managing scarce underground water resources in the desert is examined in this case study as a characteristic example of traditional wisdom that has survived for millennia.   

In the description that follows, focus is given not only to the description of the operation of the system itself, but also to the entire social organisation that developed around the foggaras, in Morocco. In fact, the construction and maintenance of a foggara formed special societal bonds and a hierarchy on the basis of which the inhabitants of the oasis would share the privileges and responsibilities for the management of this vital resource in an undisputed, just manner. Such social configurations survive to our days in Morocco and in other countries where foggaras are in place.

This case study is of particular importance. Foggaras are threatened today on the one hand by the increasing demands of population growth, and on the other hand, by the popularity of new water extraction technologies, especially electric pumps that exhaust underground water resources and render the foggaras useless. Perhaps the challenge in this case is how to make best use of cotemporary science and technology in water management, while taking into account the traditional foggara.