Moroccan nomads’ way of life threatened by climate change

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In the blistering desert of Morocco, the country’s last Berber nomads, the Amazigh, say their ancient lifestyle is under threat as climate change brings ever-more intense droughts. “Everything has changed,” said Moha Ouchaali, his wrinkled features framed by a black turban. “I don’t recognise myself anymore in the world of today. Even nature is turning against us.”

Ouchaali, an Amazigh man in his 50s, has set up an encampment near a dry riverbed in barren hills about 280 kilometres (174 miles) east of Marrakesh. Amid the rocky, arid landscape near the village of Amellagou, he and his family have pitched two black woollen tents, lined with old animal fodder bags and fabric scraps.

One is for sleeping and hosting guests, the other serves as a kitchen. “Water has become hard to find. Temperatures are going up and the drought is so harsh, but we can’t do much,” said Ouchaali.

His tribe, the Ait Aissa Izem, has spent centuries roaming the country to find food for their animals, but their way of life is steadily disappearing. According to the last census, just 25,000 people in Morocco were nomadic in 2014, down by two-thirds in just a decade.

“We’re exhausted,” Ouchaali’s 45-year-old wife Ida said emotionally. “Before, we managed to live decently, but all these droughts, more and more intense, make our lives complicated. Without water we can’t do anything.” This year has seen Morocco’s worst drought in four decades. Rainfall is set to decline by 11 percent and average temperatures set to rise by 1.3 percent by 2050, according to forecasts from the Ministry of Agriculture. “Nomads have always been seen as a barometer of climate change,” said anthropologist Ahmed Skounti.

“If these people, used to living in extreme conditions, can’t resist the intensity of global warming, that means things are bad.” The drying up of water resources was “the last nail in the coffin for nomads”, he added.

In easier times, the Ait Aissa Izem would pass the summer in the relatively cool mountain valley of Imilchil, before heading to the area around regional capital Errachidia for the winter. “That’s ancient history,” Ouchaali said, sitting in his tent and taking a sip of sweet Moroccan tea. “Today we go wherever there’s a bit of water left, to try to save the animals.”

Severe water shortages have even pushed some nomads to take the rare step of taking out loans to feed their livestock, their most vital asset.

“I’ve gone into debt to buy food for my animals so they don’t starve to death,” said Ahmed Assni, 37, sitting by a tiny, almost dried-out stream near Amellagou. Saeed Ouhada said the difficulties had pushed him to find accommodation for his wife and children in Amellagou, while he stays with his parents in a camp on the edge of the town.

“Being a nomad isn’t what it used to be,” he said. “I’ll keep at it because I have to. My parents are old but they refuse to live in a town.” Driss Skounti, elected to represent nomads in the region, said the area used to have around 460 tents. Today, they don’t even add up to a tenth of that number.—AFP

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