By Mohamed Tafraouti
Marrakech – Water resources are subject to increasing and continuous anthropogenic pressures induced by driving forces such as the increase of needs for water that evolve with population growth, the country’s socio-economic development, and the changes in consumption patterns. These pressures are exacerbated by climate change which is becoming a reality.
The IPCC (2014) estimated that the change in the average surface temperature of the earth would exceed that of the 1850-1900 period by 1.5 °C at the end of the current century. This change will affect directly or indirectly the water cycle through fluctuations in precipitation and evaporation cycles and increasing variability and intensity of rainfall. The prevailing climate of Morocco makes the country prone to droughts and floods, the severity and intensity of which has been increasing in recent decades. These climate extremes have had extensive economic and social impacts in the past.
A research project named GIREPSE coordinated by the Moroccan Regional Science Association is implemented in Morocco and deals with adaptation to climate change through Integrated Water Resources Management and payment of environmental services at a watershed level. This interview was conducted with Professor Abdellatif Khattabi, the project coordinator and the president of AMSR.
MWN: Where in the country is GIREPSE implemented?
Abdellatif Khattabi: The research is carried out in the High Atlas region, a mountainous area that holds ?? Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain elevation in Morocco and the roof of North Africa soaring at 4167 meters, specifically the River basin of Tensift. The Tensift Basin covers 24.800 km²and is located in the center west of Morocco, covering an estimated area of ??24.800 km² and divided into four distinct geographical areas: the High Atlas in the south; the Haouz plains and Mjat Basin in the center; the “Jbilat” in the north, consisting of medium-altitude mountains that rise from the north of the Haouz plain; and the Essaouira – Chichaoua plateau in the west.
MWN: Why are you targeting this area specifically?
Abdellatif Khattabi: The Tensift Basin, more specifically the Ourika sub basin, was selected because it has been experiencing a significant deterioration of its forest ecosystems, dense erosion, and heavy national and foreign tourist traffic, especially during summer. The development of small tourist infrastructure along the Ourika River valley make it vulnerable to floods. The history of the region stands witness to the horrific and deadly floods of 17 August 1995.
These floods have become more frequent despite the regulation of water flow in the rivers feeding the Basin, not only because of climate change, but also as a result of human activities that worsen the deterioration of soil and plant cover of forest lands, such as farming, thus accelerating the manifestations of erosion and rapid water flow.
The problem of water, the lifeline and pulsating heart of economic and social development, calls for addressing the constraints of developing and managing water resources in the Tensift Basin prey to climate change challenges. This area is in need of directives and recommendations geared at preserving its social, economic, and environmental equilibriums that respond to the imperative of adapting to climate change.
MWN: What are the GIREPSE projects’ main objectives?
Abdellatif Khattabi: GIREPSE project aims to analyze the situation on the ground and formulate recommendations and guidelines for a strategy of integrated water resources management (IWRM) in Morocco. It stems from an in-depth understanding of the impact of climate change and the sustainability of resource-related environmental services in general. These recommendations will cover aspects related to the environmental services, the socioeconomic dimension, and the adaptation to climate change.
However, the overriding goal is not only to improve integrated water management, but also to contribute to improving people’s livelihoods and strengthen vulnerable ecosystems by funding preservation through payment for environmental services. It aspires to build the capacities of policy-makers and communities in the adaptation to climate change, on assessing environmental services and integrated water resource management, and on methods of community mobilization.
Operating in collaboration with various stakeholders, the project also seeks to reach agreement on a common vision for the management of water resources and adapt this vision to local conditions, as well as secure the necessary tools and skills to fulfill such vision.
MWN: How are you going to fulfill this goal?
Abdellatif Khattabi: Extending over three years, the project activities will strive to shed light on the factors that affect water management and work on the formulation of recommendations for an integrated water management strategy that will take into account the conservation of environmental services and the context of climate change. This challenge can be met by financing management strategies aimed at improving the population’s ability to adapt and promote the ecosystem’s health. This will entail actions to integrate climate conditions and market-based instruments in today’s environmental and development policies and in strategies for the development of action plans. These actions would include payment for environmental services that could have direct or indirect impacts, and a water management practice that takes into consideration different vulnerabilities and adaptation to climate change.
MWN: Why are water issues at the heart of the project?
Abdellatif Khattabi: We believe that water issues should be a national priority. The statistics of recent years show a clear downward trend in global per capita availability of water. In addition to recurrent droughts experienced by the country over the past four decades, there has been a growing demand, resulting particularly from population growth and economic development accentuated this trend. According to a report published by the World Resources Institute (2014), Morocco rates among the 20 countries most stressed in terms of water resources availability. Even though Morocco has adhered during the four decades to a water management policy that endowed it with a large capacity of water storage in dams reservoirs, the mobilized resources remain under great pressure. This is a result of population growth and improvement of living conditions, industrial development, tourism, and the expansion of irrigated agriculture. As it is, water is scarce, and this scarcity will be further exacerbated in the future by climate change impacts.
MWN: How is this problem tackled currently at the national level?
Abdellatif Khattabi: For more than two decades, Morocco’s water management policy has been promoting integrated water resource management (IWRM). This approach seeks to strike a balance between the growing demand for water and its low supply, and to dispel any doubts about the shortfall in the future. However, considerations of IWRM with a true dimension that integrates the environmental services’ preservation and adaptation to climate change have not been addressed explicitly whether at the national level (National Water Strategy), or at the regional one. The return of experience to implementing IWRM reveals a number of failings, an inadequate appreciation of the risks associated with climate change and a disregard for the ecological functions governing the production of many hydrological services.
The desired integration, of which the common effect of human performance and the potentialities of the natural environment must be further developed, has come up against a number of challenges such as the difficulty of effectively involving all stakeholders, the coordination of sector-based visions, and poor encouragement, support, sensitization, and capacity-building. Today’s challenge is to find ways to re-consider integrated water management in the context of climate change, taking into account the continuity of production and environmental services and this is what we are targeting in the GIREPSE project.
MWN: How will the project be implemented?
Abdellatif Khattabi: This project brought together a group of experienced researchers from a variety of complementary disciplines and several institutions such as Cadi Ayyad University, the National School of Forest Engineers, the National Directorate of Meteorology, the Regional Observatory of Environment and Sustainable Development in Marrakech Tensift, the National Institute of Planning and Urbanization, the Moncton University in Canada and others, etc. The project implementation is scheduled over a period of three years (2014-2017).
We will pursue the fulfillment of the project’s goal through a participatory and consultative approach for the analysis of priorities and strategic options for an integrated and adapted water resource management. In conjunction with this, we will dedicate efforts to building capacities of stakeholders through training and sensitization. This will also take into account the gender component through an effective participation of women in the conceptualization and implementation of the project.
The process of implementation will also involve capacity building through participation in training and sensitization workshops, coordination with researchers and scientists through a “research action” approach, and effective participation in the implementation of the project’s activities. Interactive meetings will be held on the Ourika sub-basin to develop effective and equitable responses to mitigate climate risks, improve water and environment systems, and assess assets and environmental services.
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