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Women’s Social Networks at Heart of Coping with Climate Change in Morocco

Moroccan women in Marrakech

By Mohamed Tafraouti

Rabat – The Adaptation to Climate Change in the Tensift Watershed Project (GIREPSE) organized a participatory workshop in the riverside village of Setti Fadema for the benefit of women from villages located on the banks of the Ourika River. The workshop discussed several ways to improve the management of water resources and enhance rural women’s capacities to deal with the impacts of climate change using Information and communication technology (ICTs).

The University of Moncton research team from Canada, headed by Professor Diane Pruneau, in coordination with Professor Abdellatif Khattabi, GIREPSE’s project Coordinator and President of the Moroccan Association of Regional Sciences (AMSR), is studying how ICTs can be used to help maintain communication among rural women in the search for solutions to local problems related to water shortages or pollution and to floods risks in the region.

Rural women suffer from shortages of water supply in some areas where access to potable water is limited because houses are not connected to piped water distribution networks. The research team is studying the skills and constraints demonstrated by a number of women who live and work along the Ourika valley. These women are invited to share their experiences in dealing with problems related to shortages of water resources and the suggested solutions to cope with floods and pollution constraints. To facilitate the communication among them, women were offered numerical tablets and internet connection for a period of two years in order to participate in the discussion.

Professor Abdellatif Khattabi, President of the Moroccan Regional Sciences Association (AMSR) and coordinator of the GIREPSE project, emphasized the focus on supporting this women’s net work which served as a virtual forum to discuss water related problems and suggest feasible and adaptable solutions through data and information via social media.

Moroccan women in Marrakech

The participating women were taught how to use Internet and log into social media networks. They have shown enthusiasm for using the aforementioned tools by sharing videos and pictures of natural events such as floods and soil erosion that have happened in the area and how these events affected local people’s daily lives. Abdellatif Khattabi stated that the objective of the initiative is to create a social network platform for the exchange of information and the discussion of issues related to the management of water resources, especially during the periods of floods which occur periodically in the region, and which are being caused by heavy rainfall and summer storms. He added that women will have the opportunity to exchange pictures and videos that show events as they occur in real time and what solutions can be adopted to cope with them. Indeed, the use of the ICT initiative aims to develop communication and early warning communication mechanisms for the prevention and mitigation of natural hazard impacts on the population. Communicating through the virtual platform allows rural women to set up a network for sharing information and solutions to anticipate and cope with the impacts of climate change.

Abdellatif Khattabi explained at the opening of the workshop that the issues being discussed are among the priorities of the GIREPSE project, adding that this workshop is devoted to discuss water resources issues and the solutions adopted by local populations, especially women.

Professor Diane Pruneau from the University of Moncton, a partner in the project, presented the objectives of the initiative, which intends to build the capacity of rural women in using ICTs. The initiative seeks to identify the problems women face while consuming water in order to find effective solutions that are well matched with the peculiarities of the region and the status of rural women.

Sara Benbrahim, a student at the National School of Forest Engineers, presented an overview of the region and a summary of the flood events that marked the area, including the 1995, 1999 and 2014 ones.

How do women prepare to face flood risks?

According to a survey conducted by the project, the women interviewed said they would store firewood, an indispensable resource for the survival of the population of the region, in an attempt to reduce the impact of floods on their livelihoods.

The firewood is used for heating in cold weather conditions, since the region is known for its cold temperatures, which may lead to sickness or mortality in children at extreme conditions. Women also store grains, dry vegetables, sugar, and flour to insure provision of food for their families during rainy and snowy seasons. The storage strategy is very practical and useful during the periods of non-stop rainfall or snow, which isolate the entire villages from the outside world.

During rainy periods, women cover their rooftops with plastic sheets or sand beds. They also change water streams to prevent water from engulfing their homes. Those who fail to implement these measures rush to put their furniture and food supplies in high places in order to cut losses. Families who cannot escape the floods are forced to leave everything behind and run out of their homes.  They seek shelter with neighbors or family members who manage to settle in the mountains or in less dangerous areas.

How do women behave after the floods?

Floods leave a trail of impacts on villages. The roads and drinking water infrastructure are damaged, wells and rivers become contaminated, houses are destroyed, stables become inundated, and electricity supply cuts are often encountered during these extreme events. In many of these cases, women are left alone to clean up the mess because most of men work in fields or in urban centers neighboring the region.

In order to fix this situation, women resort to old and inefficient means such as clearing the roads in order to fetch water and firewood. They also clean houses, rebuild livestock stables, repair flood damages, fix rooftops, clean fields and restore irrigation canals.

The workshop participants discussed the issue of potable water and solutions to reduce water pollution. They also expressed their desire to have alternative sources of energy instead of having to fetch water. In addition, they suggested having a public bath to avoid using wood for private baths and that they would like to see the roads improved.

ICTs have become an essential tool to address the climate change problems faced by the region. ICTs can be used to mitigate the impact of green house gas emissions and help rural women adapt to climate change and lay the foundation for development. In this context, Android-powered tablets were distributed during the course of the workshop to the women participating in the research project. Women have pledged to share data on Facebook and attend workshops as well as a range of other commitments. Other workshops are planned to further develop gender equality issues with regard to the effects of climate change. The future workshops will see the participation of various academic institutions, and the Directorate of Meteorology.

The Moroccan Association for Regional Sciences coordinates the implementation of the GREPSE project, spanning over a three-year-period (2014-2017). This project is implemented in collaboration with the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech, the National School of Forest Engineers, the National Directorate of Meteorology, the Regional Observatory for Environment and Sustainable Development of Haouz-Tensift region, the National Institute of Urban Planning and the University of Moncton in Canada.

The project addresses the complex issues related to social, economic and natural systems and their interactions. It aims to promote integrated water management policy, while taking into account all the driving forces for change, both internal and external. The project will benefit from the comprehensive dialogue between the concerned stakeholders of the water sector.

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