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

Nowadays, with the weakening effective power of the traditional jemâa, more and more people are evading their collective obligations. Common law, which used to regulate collective work, is becoming increasingly difficult to enforce, especially on young people. The declining interest in and motivation for agriculture has also contributed to a decline in the collective maintenance of the khettaras 

Another threat to the khettaras in Morocco appears to be the prevalence of motor pumps in the last decades, and the ensuing overpumping that has caused a lowering of the water table, rendering the khettaras useless. These factors reinforce each other, as due to the lower flow in the khettaras and their subsequent diminished agricultural importance, the motivation to maintain them further declines, and motor pumping is further encouraged. In this framework, the future maintenance of the khettaras and irrigation system is becoming increasingly difficult to guarantee.

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Conclusion: the challenges and the perspectives

To save the oases and the ancestral know-how linked to them, a participatory approach that takes heed of and listens to the local population is necessary. This issue should be on the agenda of every decision-maker. The identity and cultural aspects are not minor in such a case. On the contrary, they are the cornerstone for establishing tools and mechanisms that can create and apply ideas. Common sense becomes extremely important.

A careful study of other infrastructure projects can help us understand how to go from tradition to modernity, from the jemâa to the association, from collective land to cooperatives, from collective aid (twiza) to an economy of solidarity, without offending the ego and pride of populations that were formerly warriors, farmers and people of religion.

The damage of the decisions taken and the changes made during the colonial era which saw the substitution of the democratically elected jemâa by the appointed “Ait lmagliss”, the despotic power given to the Kaïds and the rise of corruption, resulted in a divided and disoriented society. The vote rigging going on created an atmosphere full of hatred and suspicion towards the authorities and neighbours.

To put it in a nutshell, according to a well-known song verse that populations from the oases recite in rain rituals during droughts …

“A Sidi Oussouffi, rzmaghd iwaman Anzal, nouzoum, ntoub iRrbi”
(= Oh Saint Sidi Oussouffi, let the water flow, we shall pray, we shall fast, and we shall repent towards God)

Indeed, everyone knows that the saint does not possess the celestial water reserve which is of divine property only, but societies intuitively continue to live and prosper through the belief in the existence of saints, a term which here  denotes the persons acting for the good of their fellow man.

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