Sahara Desert - Mhamid

Many of Morocco’s former nomads have settled in M’Hamid El Ghizlane, an oasis town of about 7,500 close to the Algerian border.  When we arrive in MHamid we meet Mohammed, one of these former nomads who now works in one of the hotels built for western tourists who want to ride quads and motorbikes though the Sahara dunes. The first 30 years of his life he spend as a “rain nomad”, a herder moving along the western rim of the Sahara Desert in search of something to graze for his goats and camels.

Then the climate started changing. The rain became even more sporadic than it already was and temperatures got hotter. A dam built upstream of the Draa River chocked the only other source of water. Many of Mohammed’s camels died in the desert and he was forced to choose an easier life for him as a family.

Although his life is more secure now, he misses the desert. He doesn’t have to think about it when we ask him to bring us to the few real nomads that are still living in the desert.

After driving for more than an hour though the desert we are surprised to find a well in the middle of nowhere. People gather around to get water. 

Mohammed explains that it used to be possible to find water close to the surface, but people are now forced to dig 10 meters or more. When they do find water, it is often unusable because of salinization.

We continue our journey through the desert and find a father and son grazing some camels along the outskirts of the dunes. The boy is being taught the family trade, but his father acknowledges that a life as a future nomad might not be possible for his son. Where nomads would sometimes herd over a 100 camels, only small packs are left now. The same goes for him, as he has around ten camels to take care of. The animals provide milk, meat and skins, traditional sources of income for the nomads here. But now it is getting harder and harder to make a living.

63% of nomads has already said goodbye to the traditional nomad lifestyle in the past decade. They have moved to other sources of income such as becoming trekking guides for tourists in the area. We wonder what the future will look like for the last remaining nomads, and fear that this region might become the Walt Disney of desert trekking, where all the camels you see are packed with tourists, and only a hint remains of the nomadic lifestyle that used to rule the region.

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