Story

Dry Springs and Dead Orchards

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Mbarek Belkadi stands next to the stump of an orange tree on his family’'s farm in Sebt El Guerdane. He said earning a living has been difficult the past several years since their well went dry and the family uprooted their trees. Image by Ian James. Morocco, 2015.

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Some springs that once sustained farming villages are now dry in Morocco's Souss-Massa region. In a village near the town of Oulad Berhil, a dry spring has become a grassy pit filled with trash. People say it stopped flowing about 15 years ago. Image by Steve Elfers. Morocco, 2015.

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Moroccans once used underground irrigation tunnels called khettaras to capture and guide flows of groundwater to their fields. The khettaras have gone dry in many areas as groundwater levels have fallen. This hole in the ground is part of a system of khettaras in a village near Oulad Berhil that hasn'’t flowed in years. Image by Ian James. Morocco, 2015.

SEBT EL GUERDANE, Morocco – On a plot of farmland where goats wander among the weeds, a two-story house made of stone and concrete looks out over what was once a lush grove of orange trees. Now those trees have been ripped from the ground, leaving bare earth and dead stumps.

Groundwater has been severely overpumped by farms in Morocco’s Souss-Massa region, and the water table has fallen dramatically. When the family’s well dried up, their farm was transformed into barren land.

The orange grove’s disappearance nearly five years ago eliminated the main source of income for Mbarek Belkadi, his three brothers, and their families. They’ve turned to whatever work they can find, often buying and selling fruit. Earning enough to survive has become a constant struggle.

“All this land was irrigated with this well. Now it’s dead,” Mbarek said, standing beside piles of dry branches. “It’s finished here.”

Read the full story and view the full interactive presentation with photos and video here.