In the past fifty years, Morocco’s population has nearly tripled. Mass migrations and urbanization have pushed more than half of the growing population into cities, producing huge shanty towns. Residents lack access to clean water and sanitation services. Such barriers can lead to higher risk of waterborne diseases, such as malaria and typhoid. Although cities are undoubtedly struggling with an unprecedented influx of migrants, the worst inequities exist in the gap between rural and urban populations. Lack of infrastructure and inexcusably high rates of poverty have left rural Morocco feeling distrustful towards the civic sector and struggling to maintain social order.
Agriculture makes up 19 percent of Morocco’s GDP but only 15 percent of agricultural land is properly irrigated. Severe lack of sanitation services and wastewater treatment often means that the little water that can be used for irrigation is contaminated, further inhibiting rural farmers. Due to climate change, rainfall is predicted to decrease by approximately 50 percent by 2050, threatening Morocco with droughts and less access to water for an already struggling population.
The most vulnerable of populations (women and children) are hit the hardest in context of water scarcity. In a paper analyzing the impact of sustainable drinking water on women’s empowerment in rural Kyrgyzstan, it was found that lack of access to clean water imparts the largest burden on young women. Generally speaking, women are responsible for traveling to water pumps, waiting in long queues, manually pumping water, carrying water, and doing hand-washing chores. This can lead to chronic pain and overall impaired health. It was found that back pain was rampant among rural women because many were expected to carry up two 10L loads of water at a time. Traveling to water pumping areas, toilets, or open defecation sites also leaves women and girls vulnerable to disease, harassment, abuse, and sexual violence.
The responsibility for water collection does not only pose physical and health risks for women. The previously mentioned study noted that many subjects had strong feelings of guilt for not being able to protect their children from contracting diseases through contaminated water sources. Loss of freedom, personal time, and socialization due to the time-consuming and arduous task of carrying water made young women feel isolated. They are unable to be active in their communities or participate in decision-making processes, which can also lead to feelings of inferiority and disempowerment. If there is a lack of water in a household or a high water bill, it is often perceived as the woman’s fault, which can cause conflict and sometimes even violence against women. These worrying conclusions are not specific to Kyrgyz women. Their struggles mirror the struggles faced by rural Moroccan women in areas with similar levels of water scarcity. The responsibility for collecting water imparts a huge physical and emotional burden on Moroccan women and can make them vulnerable to the health risks, isolation, and abuse discussed above.
All those hours traveling and collecting water take away time in school for Moroccan girls. Children may be forced to work up to 32 hours a week, which keeps them out of school and repeats the vicious cycle of poverty. Morocco has high gender inequality when it comes to primary and secondary education, especially in rural areas. In addition to their responsibilities around water collection, girls are often forced to work for their impoverished families and enter early marriages, further hindering their development. There is little backlash against this, as Moroccan tradition tends to favor boys’ education. As such, gender role expectations and limited access to clean water continue to cause a disheartening drop in education for girls. The water scarcity burden bars a significant number of women from being able to directly contribute to the economy—which collectively and negatively impacts all Moroccans.
It is important to note that there are efforts to counteract the issue of inaccessible clean water and its subsequent social implications. International investments (from development banks, such as KfW in Germany) into the northern region of Morocco can bolster infrastructure to connect unsecured village water sources. There are efforts to construct transport pipelines with pumping stations, clean water reservoirs, distribution systems, and direct connection of water into homes.
The High Atlas Foundation has constructed 19 clean drinking water systems in Morocco’s remote villages, including wells, gravity flow systems, water towers, and solar pumps. Over 9,000 people benefited and now have easier access to clean drinking water. Efforts such as these make a significant contribution towards the UN’s SDG6 (clean water and sanitation). Village residents can experience better health and economic development, conceivably decreasing the socio-economic gap between urban and rural areas and thereby helping to serve SDG3 (health and wellbeing). Furthermore, provision of safe drinking water frees up time and decreases emotional and physical labor for women, potentially allowing girls to further pursue education and thus serving SDG10 (decreased inequality).
Inaccessible water is an issue that affects all Moroccans, regardless of gender or class. Although rural women bear the greatest and most direct burden of water scarcity, its precipitating social consequences impact the entire nation’s economy and development. Clearly, there are many stakeholders in this issue, and thus there should be widespread support to continue the effort of providing accessible water to Moroccan villages. In doing so, Moroccan citizens (especially women and children) can look forward to enjoying better overall health, safety, and empowerment.
Recognizing this week’s World Environment Day reminds us of the evolution of the concept of sustainable development since the phrase was coined in a 1987 United Nations’ report. At that time, sustainable development concentrated on the idea of natural resource management and how humanity must not consume the sources of our sustenance to an extent that any harm is brought upon our collective future.
However, much has been learned since that reminder of the pivotal notion to help secure our continuity on Earth—lessons that are important to share on this year’s World Environment Day. Certainly, environmental considerations and perspectives remain a crux within the concept and practice of sustainable development.
However, time and evaluations also reveal that matters of cultural relativity, or the distinct priorities of any local community or neighborhood based on their specific circumstances and outlooks of life that they bear, infringe upon the extent sustainability of projects and initiatives can manifest. The way we cultivate our food and the choices we make regarding our production and consumption matter. If growers also process their yields and small farming landholders can indeed thrive, there is also a powerful consequence on life’s durability.
Clearly, political circumstances and how governments at different tiers of society emphasize the different services and goals in their public budgets impact the vitality of people’s growth actions. We see the technical capacities, variability of local know-how, and the dependability of enterprises on domestic or international technologies also factor into sustainable development.
Just as gender inequality is a global and historic cruel reality, it also exists in full measure in the places where we live, and it profoundly determines sustainability of our livelihoods and natural world. Conflict and peace, never-ending economic cycles, weather patterns and climate, emotional and mental well-being, family relationships (however contextually defined), the manner in which we share or do not, even our views upon those who have lived before us—all of these matters and more are determinants of not just our earthly but also of our local communities’ sustainability.
Today’s definition of sustainable development is a composite of all the diverse factors of life and a function of how we live. Yes, to that of the all-important natural resources, as was established by the United Nations’ 1987 statement, and also yes to so much more. If sustainable development understood as such crosses over into the ideals of World Environment Day, then even as conceptualizing it is important, experience tells us that doing so does not necessarily equate to practical actions for positive change.
Time and evaluations have also shown us this: to move forward, all these different perspectives needed for creating contemporary sustainable development, which is multidimensional and complex, require the inclusive participation of the people. Further, the support of all sectors and administrative tiers helps actualize communities’ planning, design, implementation, and management of growth projects that enhance their well-being.
People’s participation is synonymous with sustainability because their broad inclusion delivers the wide-ranging points of view necessary for sustainability to embody the diversity of qualities. The participation and control of development by the benefiting people is in fact the only assurance that they will interject the contextually-rooted and ranging dimensions of life in order for adaptive and appropriate development to take hold.
In sum, World Environment Day is about all people’s determination of their own growth fate, and as such all ships of life on Earth can then rise with the tide of all our self-discoveries and the fulfillment that they bring.
The consequences of environmental degradation extend far past a loss of natural resources or fragile ecosystems. The livelihoods, well-being, and health of people across the world is also at stake - particularly in regions that are already highly vulnerable to climate change and suffer from rural poverty, such as Morocco.
A unique opportunity is at hand for Morocco to address these urgent challenges, and has begun to do so. The development of renewable energy is at the heart of the Moroccan national energy policy, which is oriented towards a diversification of energy supply sources. Morocco is arguably the leader in Africa in terms of renewable energy, and the Kingdom has begun to focus on decentralized renewable energy projects after years of large-scale work. Greater action, however, in the form of a singular decentralization strategy, must be taken in order to fully capitalize on this potential and have a true impact on those that need it most.
This published essay, written by High Atlas Foundation President Dr. Yossef, Germanwatch Policy Advisor Ms. Kerstin, and High Atlas Foundation Program Director Ms. Imane, discusses Morocco's strategies for decentralized governance, especially as they may influence, and indeed be driven by, renewable energy and community-based development.
According to the World Health Organization, in 2017, 5.3 billion people used safely managed drinking-water services located on premises, available when needed, and free from contamination1. However, this leaves approximately 2.2 billion people without such access, with around 1.4 billion people with basic services (an improved water source within a 30-minute round trip), and 206 million people with limited services (an improved water source requiring more than a 30-minute round trip). Improved sources are categorized as household taps, public standpipes, boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs, and collected rainwater2. And worse still, 435 million people take water from unprotected wells and springs, and 144 million people collect untreated surface water from lakes, ponds, rivers and streams3. Uncontaminated water is not only necessary for drinking, but also for cooking, cleaning, personal and medical hygiene, and agriculture. Clean drinking water is a basic human right, and the causes and effects of a lack of access to uncontaminated water must be investigated and rectified.
Clean water scarcity can have different causes. There can either be a “physical scarcity” of sufficient fresh water, or an “economic scarcity” where freshwater is available but is expensive to use 4. Physical scarcity can vary by region based on climate, and physical scarcity is becoming increasingly common due to climate change. It is predicted that global warming will reach at least 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels5. With this warming comes climate reactions, including changes in precipitation patterns. Such changes include glacial and snowpack melting due to increased temperatures, which depletes both the mountain stream runoff and groundwater supplies. Mountain meltwater and runoff provide more than 50% of the world’s freshwater6. Surface and groundwater supplies are also impacted by climate-change related drought. Lack of precipitation impedes groundwater recharge, meaning that those who rely on wells for clean drinking water will be impacted. Worldwide, 2.5 billion people depend solely on groundwater resources 7.
The opposite of drought that is just as damaging is increased intense precipitation in some areas. Such precipitation can lead to major flooding. While the overabundance of water in a flood may seem helpful in drought-stricken areas, floods in fact can affect water safety by contaminating otherwise safe water with sewage and other pollutants. Surface and groundwater contamination can be introduced from other sources as well. Surface and groundwater resources in unmanaged or mismanaged systems are increasingly polluted with human and animal waste, agricultural runoff, chemicals such as fluorine or arsenic, and industrial effluents8. Agricultural runoff into streams and lakes can lead to eutrophication and toxic algal blooms which not only makes the water undrinkable but also chokes out animal life that may be relied upon for food or important ecosystem services. It is predicted that Globally, the number of lakes with harmful algal blooms will increase by at least 20% until 2050. All of the above factors impede the essential provision of clean drinking water to billions of people around the world, and have the capacity to worsen. It is predicted that by 2030, the world will face a 40% global water deficit under the current climate change scenario 9.
The lack of access to clean water sources has a host of negative impacts to individuals and communities. Ingestion and use of contaminated water are linked to diseases including cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio10. All of these diseases can be deadly, but they are also preventable with access to clean water. Unsafe drinking water not only kills, but prevents equal opportunity and economic productivity. Internationally, women and girls have a larger role in water collection than men. Women and girls often spend hours out of their day traveling long distances to the nearest clean water source. This often prevents girls from being able to attend school or hold a steady-income job11. Women's health is also disproportionately affected by lack of access to clean water, as women are more vulnerable to the health effects of contamination of water such as infection during menstruation and reproduction12. Improving access to clean water can allow women and girls to invest more time into their education and economic development, which will benefit their communities as a whole and greatly contribute to poverty reduction.
As of 2017, 70% of the Moroccan population had access to safely managed drinking water services. However, this leaves approximately 10.7 million Moroccans without such access. There especially is a disparity in clean drinking water access between urban and rural Moroccans, with 88.9% of people in urban areas having access to safely managed drinking water services, while only 39.9% of people in rural areas having such access13. This creates obvious room for improvement of the infrastructure in rural areas of Morocco in order to promote equality of standard of living and opportunity. Morocco is at a high risk of further clean-water scarcity as the effects of climate change worsen and populations continue to rise. Morocco is expected to see temperature increases between 2 and 3C by 2050, which has the potential to decrease precipitation between 10 and 20%14, while populations are expected to grow to 46 million people before 2050 15.
Improving access to clean water sources is essential in Morocco and Globally. Water scarcity will only worsen with increased climate impact and global population. Communities and governing organizations must invest in providing the infrastructure for clean drinking water delivery and storage to all citizens in all locations and of all socio-economic statuses.
Development. When many people hear this word, they think of infrastructure and improved education but do not necessarily think about the challenges and processes that convert a place to a developed area. Participatory methods have been shown to have many benefits and positive outcomes as a method of development including helping women become empowered, pave a better future for youth, and create successful health education programs. The push behind these programs is essential to the long-term development of rural communities and builds a sense of self by allowing individuals to focus more on personal goals. A large portion of the challenge in development stems from public health challenges, including access to clean water and lack of sanitation because these issues are the basis of human well-being.
Clean water is an issue that plagues countries and rural communities globally, yet only slight improvements have been made in recent years. Currently, 1.6 million children die from complications related to unclean drinking water every year. Access to clean water is vital for all people, and contaminated water often carries lethal diseases thus increasing mortality rates. Approximately 60% of the Moroccan community has access to clean drinking water, but even for the population that does have access to this water, the sources still may be far away and inconvenient for access. Additionally, these sources may include taps, wells, tank water, and open sources; but, in rural areas where people may appear to have water, the source is not reliable or always clean.
The biggest issue is the allocation of water to more rural areas. Now, to most people, it seems that sanitation is a prevalent public health issue, but there is more to it than illness and mortality statistics that are commonly displayed. When clean water is easily accessible for all individuals, individuals have more time to spend on education and bettering themselves. In the process of development, health should be at the forefront of the community goals. Since death rates decrease and less time and resources are being dedicated to issues with water-borne illnesses like cholera and dysentery, women and children can participate more fully in other projects.
In many rural areas, illiteracy rates are higher among women, as they are often pulled away from formal education in order to care for children or gather resources such as food and water to feed their families. The societal notion that men should be the only educated, working ones of the household is outdated, and these Moroccan women have potential that is waiting to be uncovered. The solution begins with the indispensable need for clean water and sanitation in rural communities.
Looking through the lens of participatory development, solving the issue of public health through clean water access is one of the roots of a thriving community. In Somesh Kumar’s “Methods for Community Participation: A Complete Guide for Practitioners,” he acknowledges how participatory rural appraisal allows people to reflect on their experiences and sustainably shape their community while providing a sense of ownership and empowerment. The community members give their voice on the area they feel is of utmost importance to be fixed, and within these approaches clean water access is a favored topic. The projects they decide to complete are far more likely to be maintained because of personal involvement. When outside organizations develop a rural community, their methods are often standardized approaches because they can never be fully cognizant of the deeply rooted issues. With water access, different methods like a well in one community may not work for a different area because of geography and maintenance levels, so individualized approaches are necessary.
Within development, many sectors depend on each other, for example, accessibility to water and education. When community members are too busy working on ways to satisfy essential needs, they have little time to become educated; therefore, if a school is built, its effectiveness is not maximized until we address the issue of water correctly and maintain community access. In a past High Atlas Foundation Blog, Safae notes, ”In our daily water-rich life we may take water for granted, but in parts of Morocco, access to clean water is a matter of life or death. Safe drinking water is fundamental to health, survival, growth, and development.” This point links together access to water and the bigger impact on rural areas. When certain projects are prioritized by community members being at the heart of their decisions, we can change communities in a way that truly looks at the root of issues like clean water access.
Access to clean and reliable water sources not only greatly improves community health, but it is also a step that allows people to focus their time on other areas of life. These may be education, careers, or family care, which all contribute to community enrichment. Clean water is more than just a biological necessity, rather it is a means of allowing every person to live without fear and empower a community for real forward progress.
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