High Atlas - Water

Imilchil is a small town in Mildelt providence, central Morocco. It has a population of about 1858. It is located at an elevation of 2119 m in the valley of Asif Mellulen which area is home to the Ayt Hdiddu tribe.

We meet Mohamed on the street, where preparations are underway for the yearly marriage festival. Mohamed is a Moroccan national who has lived in the Netherlands for over 30 years and has now, since a few years, returned to his home town again. He is eager to tell us about the environmental changes in the region.

He tells us that the region has become so dry because the snow has stopped falling higher up in the mountains. While snow used to fall all year round in the High Atlas, it now only snowed during winter. This has stopped the flow of melt-water in the river where villages are traditionally located because they heavily depend on water. While farmers used to harvest twice a year – once in summer time and once in winter time – this has now been reduced to only once, during winter-time. Mohammed tells us that this has forced the younger population to move to the city to make money for their families. Without the extra income to buy food on the market, some families cannot survive anymore.

“We are the first victims of climate change”, Mohamed told us. That quote resonated for a while.

Later, in the mountains, we find a man who decides to show us the dried out river from above. He has been a nomadic herder for all his life, in search for the next patch of green to feed his cattle. Today, we find him wondering though the mountains all alone on his horse with his dog. 

We climb up without speaking, the mountain is as steep as our language barrier. When we finally reach the top, we look out over a grand canyon, not much smaller that the one in Arizona. We can see the once mighty river below.

It is completely dried out.

We also meet another herder who doesn’t speak English nor French. He is walking his herd of sheep though a dried out river bed, the only place with a bit of vegetation for his goats to eat.¬†Goat cattle is a major source of income for villagers in rural Morocco, Mohamed tells us, without water it is hard to maintain them. Villages depend on it.

This becomes clear when we meet another man who is dependent on the income from cattle, the butcher of Tamtetoucht. A rich man from the village has invited a group of important guests and buys two goats that are to be slaughtered for the feast later that day. The butcher comes to get the goats in his house where we are staying, and invites me to the ritual slaughter. His son is ordered to help hold down the goat. He is being trained to become a butcher just like his father.

When we walk down the street from the villa to the butcher’s shop I wonder how sustainable this way of living is and if his son will be able to make a living as a butcher in Tamtetoucht after his father retires. The goat remains surprisingly calm, until we arrive at the place where the slaughtering happens: a small area in the corner of the alley behind the Butcher’s shop.

All these people that are affected by climate change were not hard to find, we just crossed paths and started asking questions. What we found is that people and communities are adapting to changing circumstances and this inspires us. We certainly hope that it inspires you too.

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