This piece has been updated since it first appeared to incorporate Louise Rayne's thoughts and responses to World Environment Day 2022


The theme of World Environment Day 2022, ‘Only One Earth’, emphasises sustainable living. In many cases, sustainable water management can be found by looking at the past. Some traditional irrigation techniques relied on careful harvesting of scarce resources without depleting them. Where those systems have been replaced by modern methods such as diesel-powered groundwater pumping, farmlands have degraded. Restoring and maintaining traditional water systems can prevent this environmental breakdown.

In Morocco, underground tunnels are used to collect groundwater and bring it to the fields. These are known as khattara in Morocco, but are known by other names including falaj, foggara, karez, and qanat elsewhere. They have been used in North Africa since at least the Roman period. Because they only use the water that is available, they can function very sustainably and in harmony with nature. The water they supply creates the delicate environments of oases, where palms provide shade for many other types of vegetation and for wildlife.

Water Hub participants are working on a research project to investigate the sustainability of traditional oasis environments in Morocco. Many oases were founded in the medieval period or even earlier and continue to function today, supported by ancient irrigation techniques. They are now threatened by climate change, causing desertification. This video shows some highlights from a field survey we conducted in 2021 in the Tafilalet oasis, where some khattara are surviving due to careful management by water user communities.

Out of all our natural resources, groundwater is both the most precious and exploited. 'The vast potential of groundwater, and the need to manage it sustainably, can no longer be overlooked.'

Oases are scattered across the landscape of Morocco. Created in the medieval period and earlier, oases are managed and irrigated using traditional water management approaches.

Hub researcher, Louise Rayne, visited several of these innovative systems in the Tafilalet, the largest Saharan oasis of Morocco. In this video she talks us through groundwater harvesting systems known locally as ‘khattara’ or ‘foggara’, which consist of tunnels that collect groundwater and channel it to where it is needed.  

Without the need for unsustainable diesel pumping or other environmentally harmful methods, the traditional khattara systems offer a sustainable way to manage water, and should be preserved for the future.

Newcastle Academic Track Fellowship
Prof. Youssef Bokbot, INSAP Morocco
Dr Filippo Brandolini, Newcastle University

Music by Serge Quadrado, Pixabay

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