Climate change threatens existence of Morocco’s last remaining Berber nomads

In Morocco's scorching desert, the country's last remaining Berber nomads, the Amazighs, say their ancient way of life is under threat as climate change brings increasingly intense droughts.

AMELLAGOU – In Morocco’s scorching desert, the country’s last remaining Berber nomads, the Amazighs, say their ancient way of life is under threat as climate change brings increasingly intense droughts.

“Everything has changed,” said Moha Ouchaali, whose wrinkled features were framed by a black turban. “I no longer recognize myself in today’s world. Even nature turns against us.

Ouchaali, an Amazigh in his 50s, has set up camp near a dry river bed in arid hills about 280 kilometers east of Marrakech.

Amid the rocky, dry landscape near the village of Amellagou, he and his family have pitched two black woolen tents, lined with old bags of animal food and scraps of fabric.

One is used for sleeping and hosting guests, the other is used as a kitchen.

“Water is hard to find. The temperatures are rising and the drought is so bad, but there is not much we can do,” Ouchaali said.

His tribe, the Ait Aissa Izem, have spent centuries roaming the land to find food for their animals, but their way of life is dying out.

According to the last census in 2014, only 25,000 people in Morocco were nomads, a drop of two-thirds in just a decade.

“We are exhausted,” said Ida, Ouchaali’s 45-year-old wife, with emotion.

“Before, we managed to live decently, but all these droughts, which are intensifying, complicate our lives. Without water, we cannot do anything.

LAST NAIL IN THE COFFIN

This year, Morocco experienced its worst drought in four decades.

According to forecasts by the Ministry of Agriculture, rainfall will decrease by 11% by 2050 and average temperatures will increase by 1.3%.

“Nomads have always been seen as a barometer of climate change,” says anthropologist Ahmed Skounti.

“If these people, used to living in extreme conditions, cannot withstand the intensity of global warming, then things are going badly.”

The depletion of water resources is “the final nail in the nomads’ coffin”, he added.

In simpler times, the Ait Aissa Izem spent summers in the relatively cool mountain valley of Imilchil before heading to the region around the regional capital of Errachidia for the winter.

“That’s ancient history,” Ouchaali said as he sat in his tent and sipped sweet Moroccan tea. “Today we are going where there is still water to try and save the animals.”

Severe water shortages have even prompted some nomads to take the rare initiative of borrowing to feed their livestock, their most prized possession.

“I went into debt to buy food for my animals so they wouldn’t starve,” said Ahmed Assni, 37, who sits by a nearly dry little stream near Amellagou.

Saeed Ouhada said hardship has pushed him to find accommodation for his wife and children in Amellagou while he remains with his parents in a camp on the outskirts of town.

“Being a nomad isn’t what it used to be,” he said. “I stick to it because I have to. My parents are old but they refuse to live in the city.

Driss Skounti, who was elected representative of the region’s nomads, said there were about 460 tents in the area. Today, they represent less than a tenth of that number.

TIRED OF FIGHTING

Some Moroccan nomads have completely abandoned their old way of life – and not just because of the deteriorating climate.

“I was tired of fighting,” says Haddou Oudach, 67, who settled permanently in Er-Rich in 2010.

“We have become social pariahs. I can’t even imagine what nomads are going through today.

Moha Haddachi, head of a nomadic association in Ait Aissa Izem, said social and economic changes were making nomadic life increasingly difficult.

The shortage of pasture due to land privatization and agricultural investment also contributes to the difficulties, he said.

“Agricultural investors now dominate areas where nomads used to graze their herds.”

The nomads also face hostility from some villagers, who resent those who camp in their area when they officially belong to other provinces.

A law was passed in 2019 to specify where nomads and sedentary farmers can graze their animals, but “no one enforces it”, Haddachi said.

The former nomad Oudach is upset by “this time of selfishness, where everyone thinks only of themselves”.

“It wasn’t always like this, we were welcomed everywhere,” he said.

Starting a nomadic life offers little to young people.

Houda Ouchaali, 19, says she cannot bear to see her parents “suffering and struggling just to survive”.

“The new generation wants to end nomadism,” she said.

She now lives with an uncle in Er-Rich and is looking for professional training that will allow her to “build a future” and escape the “often stigmatizing look that city dwellers have on nomads”.

Driss Skounti said he had little hope for the future of nomadism.

“Nomadic life has an identity and a tradition steeped in history,” he said, “but it is doomed to disappear within 10 years.”

  • Editor/ main report by AFP
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