By Julia Payne
On Monday June 4, 2018, we took the snaking roads through the High Atlas Mountains to the Tassa Ouirgane community nestled between two towering mountains in the Toubkal National Park. The purpose of the day’s visit was to have the community participate in a training workshop on how to manage rivers. The water expert, Ali Blali, would discuss potential options for this community that has been ravaged by flash floods (most notably in 1995) and has struggled with agriculture due to soil absorption.
HAF has been working in conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to provide the Tassa Ouirgane community with a water well. Already, HAF has built an olive nursery which we stopped by on our way to the community meeting. The baby sprouts were thriving under the steamy plastic covering that maintained a toasty 42 degree atmosphere. Spending only a few sweaty seconds in this plant haven, we soon made our way farther up the mountain to community center.
A group of about a dozen men shuffled into a brightly painted classroom surrounded by breathtaking green landscape. The projector blinked through different informational pages and pictures of a variety of embankments, gabions, water gates, and other channeling methods utilizing diverse materials—stone, masonry, vegetation—that have been implemented around Morocco. The overall optimistic emphasis was that managing a river is an achievable goal; many other local farmers have innovated solutions to problems similar to those that Tassa Ouirgane faces.
At the end of the presentation, the men turned to discussing what would best work for them. Several concerns came up including the fact that controlling a river must be done broadly, not just locally. Work at the top of a river can affect it farther down, but access to these upstream locations is limited. In addition, apprehensions about planting vegetation for it to be potentially washed away eliminated that option. One man said families live near the river and he was concerned about their safety in the event of floods. The community is also remote and has limited funds, which ruled out options like masonry.
Eventually, community members reached the conclusion that they would make an embankment of “filets” which are large mesh nets of stones that can be put in a river in order to block seepage into the soil, thereby increasing the overall water supply that can be used for agriculture. The banks made of filets will help control the water flow as well. HAF’s provincial association president, Haj Ahmed Amazzal, and Mr. Blali settled with the plan to start the construction in water training once Ramadan ends. Moving large mesh nets of stones will certainly not be easy, especially in a community where they do not have access to large machinery. However, the men had listened intently to the presentation and clearly absorbed the information, concluding the meeting optimistically with the hope that their plan would help the community, Incha Allah.