Turn­ing sun into wa­ter in parched ru­ral Morocco

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

In the arid moun­tains of east­ern Morocco, peo­ple know the value of wa­ter all too well. “Ev­ery drop is like gold. It should al­most be mea­sured by the carat,” said lo­cal ac­tivist Na­jib Bachiri. Eight hun­dred kilo­me­ters away in bustling Mar­rakesh, ne­go­tia­tors are this week thrash­ing out the de­tails of a land­mark global agree­ment de­signed to stave off dis­as­trous cli­mate change. But in Tafoughalt, a lit­tle vil­lage deep in the moun­tains of Morocco’s Berkane prov­ince, that im­pact is be­ing felt al­ready. Ris­ing tem­per­a­tures are among the fac­tors mak­ing the rains in­creas­ingly un­pre­dictable.

As a con­se­quence, life for the residents of Tafoughalt-who largely sur­vive on sub­sis­tence farm­ing-is be­com­ing harder than ever. “Here, the farm­ers work on small plots that are barely enough to feed their fam­i­lies,” says Bachiri, head of cam­paign group Homme et En­vi­ron­nement (“Man and En­vi­ron­ment”).

The group is work­ing to re­verse an ex­o­dus from the moun­tains as peo­ple seek eas­ier lives else­where. Bachiri says lo­cal prob­lems feed into each other; iso­la­tion makes life dif­fi­cult, which en­cour­ages peo­ple to quit the coun­try­side. Aban­doned fields lead to land ero­sion, which in turn also spurs on the ex­o­dus. And in the back­ground, there is the con­stant short­age of wa­ter.

“For their fields, in the ab­sence of elec­tric­ity farm­ers rely ei­ther on rain­wa­ter or on pump­ing ground­wa­ter with diesel-pow­ered gen­er­a­tors,” says Bachiri. Un­til re­cently, fuel for the gen­er­a­tors was at least avail­able cheaply thanks to ram­pant smug­gling from across the nearby Al­ge­rian bor­der. But Al­ge­rian au­thor­i­ties have cracked down on the il­licit trade since 2013, lead­ing to a tripling in prices-from 10 eu­ros ($11) for a 30-litre (eight-gal­lon) can to 30 eu­ros. And to make mat­ters even worse for the fu­el­re­liant farm­ers, the Moroc­can govern­ment has called a halt to diesel sub­si­dies. “Small-scale farm­ers here have not been able keep up, which has ag­gra­vated the agri­cul­tural cri­sis in these iso­lated vil­lages and en­cour­aged peo­ple to leave,” says Bachiri. But a sim­ple so­lu­tion is mak­ing a big dif­fer­ence: us­ing the sun from above to draw up what’s un­der­ground.

Cheaper and cleaner

With the help of lo­cal funds and in­ter­na­tional donors, Bachiri’s group has in­stalled two so­lar wa­ter pumps in the moun­tains of Tafoughalt. Two rows of black so­lar pan­els, two me­ters (2.2 yards) across and 10 me­ters long, are con­nected to a gen­er­a­tor which feeds a pump ex­tract­ing wa­ter from un­der­ground. The equip­ment is durable and low-main­te­nance. The sun­light is un­lim­ited in sup­ply, but car­ries none of diesel’s down­sides in terms of pollution and ill­health.

“So­lar en­ergy is so much bet­ter,” says 60-year-old lo­cal farmer Mahta Al­lal. “The pump­ing is weaker in win­ter or when it’s cloudy. But it’s good for us when the sun is there-it can dou­ble the pump­ing and ir­ri­ga­tion.” Sid­diq, who has guarded the lo­cal well for 17 years and as such is in charge of the com­mu­nity’s wa­ter-shar­ing ar­range­ments, said the new sys­tem was far more con­ve­nient. “Be­fore, you had to go and col­lect fuel from very far away,” he said. “It was very tir­ing-and then there was the noise, the fumes, me­chan­i­cal prob­lems. To­day it’s much bet­ter with the clean so­lar en­ergy.”

The price of an hour’s ir­ri­ga­tion has gone down by 75 per­cent, from 50 dirhams ($5) to 12.5 dirhams. “It en­cour­ages agri­cul­ture,” says Sid­diq. “Even if you don’t have a lot of land, at least you’ll be guar­an­teed a har­vest to eat.” So­lar en­ergy alone won’t be enough to solve Tafoughalt’s peren­nial wa­ter short­age. “That’s why we’ve in­stalled tanks to col­lect river wa­ter, and we’re also work­ing on in­stalling tech­nol­ogy to make the use of wa­ter more ef­fi­cient,” said Bachiri. But he said 450 farm­ers were al­ready us­ing the two so­lar pumps to wa­ter 100 hectares (250 acres) of crops. “Some farm­ers are com­ing back to the vil­lage to work the soil again-it’s a good sign,” he said. — AFP

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