North Africa is facing a severe drought.
Recent data from the European satellite Copernicus reveal a severe drought in the Maghreb region, affecting countries of great importance such as Morocco and Algeria. The absence of the liquid element is a serious setback for the population of this area, especially for all those most closely linked to the agricultural sector, which is of great importance in this geographical area.
The lack of rainfall in the area leads to major problems such as a drop in agricultural production, which also affects the rise in prices, major difficulties for the day-to-day lives of citizens linked to the agricultural sector and serious problems of access to water.
The lack of rain negatively affects agricultural production, causing it to decline due to the deterioration of harvests, which is also a destabilising factor in the North African region. Experts say that crop productivity will fall in North Africa, especially in crops such as cereals, due to weeks of severe drought that have lasted for far too long. High temperatures and lack of rainfall have meant a delay in cereal production in several regions of Morocco, in a significant part of Algeria and in the northeast and central region of Tunisia, according to the latest report of the European Union's Joint Research Centre (JRC). Poor agricultural production data could further destabilise the region economically, already affected by high food commodity prices caused by inflation and a lack of raw materials from Ukraine, which has been hit by Russia's invasion for more than a year.
"How it translates into economic impact depends on many factors, but it is certain that it directly affects agriculture and production is lost," said Italian researcher Andrea Toreti, author of a report for the European Commission that warns of this meteorological setback, in words reported by various media such as La Información.
In addition to the problem with crops and agricultural production, the drought also affects the water supply for local populations. This further aggravates a situation that could become unsustainable. According to the United Nations (UN), one in four of the world's population has no access to water, which is a major global setback. The drought is a global problem and goes beyond the Maghreb and North Africa to other regions such as the Middle East, with Turkey and Syria also being major victims, as both countries were severely hit by the strong earthquakes at the end of February that destroyed tens of thousands of buildings and infrastructures and killed tens of thousands of people.
Water is a precious and highly valued commodity worldwide. But above all it is a vital element in certain latitudes, as is the case in Africa. Morocco and Algeria are no exception to this situation, and the scarcity of water resources is a serious problem facing both North African countries.
The lack of water threatens the situation of many Moroccans and Algerians. But above all, the big problem comes for all those linked to the agricultural sector. Many families dependent on agricultural activity are being severely affected by the latest stage of severe drought facing, for example, the Moroccan kingdom in their case and, thus, a significant number of people are abandoning their villages in the face of the various episodes of drought over a long period of time already.
Water is indispensable for agricultural activity and subsistence in rural populations, and in the absence of water resources for cultivation and daily life, many people leave these enclaves for urban centres.
Various reports from official bodies in Morocco indicate that the lack of water resources is a major threat to families living in rural areas dependent on agriculture. In this regard, Moroccan public institutions confirmed that the lack of water resources threatens families living in villages and rural areas that depend mainly on agricultural activity for their livelihoods, forcing them to consider leaving their rural areas.
There is a lack of water, and in many cases it is necessary to prioritise whether the little water that is available is for personal use or for cultivation. The National Council for Human Rights warned that the delay in finding sustainable solutions based on the necessary balance between the priority of providing drinking water on the one hand, and the promotion of agricultural activities on the other, could lead to significant migratory movements, as experts reported in Al-Arab. The report of this constitutional institution, published in media outlets such as The Arab Weekly, exposed setbacks related to the existence of problems in the management of water resources.
The impact of the drought on Moroccan families is something to be taken into account because many citizens in the North African country depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In fact, the sector accounts for 15% of Morocco's Gross Domestic Product and employs between 40 and 43% of the total labour force, as also noted by this newspaper.
Experts from Morocco's National Organisation for Risk Studies and Research stressed that the persistence of the drought is preventing stable agricultural production, which is a setback for food security and a hike in prices due to the scarcity of products, which in many cases makes access to these products difficult for the poorest people. In this scenario, farmers are often affected and end up increasingly involved in rural migration.
A harsh summer with high temperatures is expected and the impact on the agricultural sector is also expected to be strong. The winter has been warmer and drier than in previous years, especially around the Mediterranean, with lack of river flows and water reserves in countries such as Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Turkey, as explained in the latest JRC report. In Morocco, the harvest has been "significantly below average in almost all wheat and barley plantations". Specifically, it is estimated at a fall of between -24 and -15% compared to the average of the last five years for wheat, and between -30 and -10% for barley.
For its part, the Algerian government has already announced that it will take measures to reduce water consumption and waste. The government intends to set up desalination plants, produce groundwater wells and activate the water police's action plan as measures to alleviate the consequences of the country's drought. Abdelmadjid Tebboune's government announced its intention to "take urgent measures" in the face of the "growing shortage of rainfall due to climate change". To this end, the plan that was approved in 2021 and 2022 to improve the situation will be revived.
The aim is to ensure that all Algerian citizens can count on drinking water on a regular basis throughout the year. If desalination plants are not boosted, and groundwater production capacity is not improved, drought could hit the population hard.
In Morocco, there are fears that the lack of rainfall will continue to cause reservoir water levels to fall, and solutions are being sought. In this regard, the Moroccan Minister of Equipment and Water, Nizar Baraka, pointed out that the Moroccan kingdom has promoted several measures to tackle this problem, such as the construction of more seawater desalination plants and the promotion of wastewater treatment.
At a conference organised by the official Moroccan news agency MAP in Rabat, Baraka expressed his concern about the "complex nature" of the water problem and the fall in water resources after years of drought and after suffering the devastating process of climate change. Baraka recalled that, due to climate change, Morocco is facing long periods of drought and more floods than in the past, but noted an improvement since last September in the resources of the reservoirs, as reported by EFE news agency.
To improve water management, the Moroccan minister said the government's strategy is to strengthen "conventional" water resources with the construction and restoration of reservoirs, and the storage of rainwater, among others, and to boost "non-conventional" water resources with desalination plants and wastewater treatment. "The aim is for there to be a balance between all the components of this strategy and not to rely mainly on reservoirs as before," the minister stressed.
To guarantee the country's "water security", the minister pointed out that the government's objective for 2030 is to guarantee more than 1.3 billion cubic metres of water from desalination plants to supply drinking water, and water for industrial, agricultural and tourist use, as also reported by the EFE news agency.
Also, to address the impact of water scarcity on Moroccan families, the experts in law, society and the environment valued the recommendation of the National Council for Human Rights on the creation of "water courts" responsible for managing water resource problems, something that will contribute to strengthening the governance of the water sector in the Kingdom of Morocco due to the growing impact of climate change.
For their part, those responsible for the JRC report stated that the most important thing now is to assess the possible future impact in order to prepare strategies for assistance and risk reduction. "Urgent action must be taken immediately to reduce the impact of drought on soil, crops and water availability," they said.