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Oasis Life – Defying the Desert

Oases are the Sahara’s green islands. This is where the caravans used to stop to stock up on food and water. The people who inhabit the Hanabou oasis in Morocco do their best to maintain the traditional oasis lifestyle. Meet Bedouins, a water manager and camel drivers – on an interactive journey to the Sahara.


In the Tafilalt region, a large group of oases in the Moroccan Sahara, people were once exclusively dependent on farming and trading animal hides and salt. Today tourism has become a crucial source of income. The Tafilalt’s top attraction is Erg Chebbi, the sprawling sand dunes that exert a magical pull on desert enthusiasts from around the world.

Given the scarce water resources, however, tourism also poses a problem – a problem exacerbated by climate change. The region is experiencing more extreme weather conditions, with decreased regular rainfall on the one hand, but occasional torrential downpours on the other. At the same time, climate change is causing greater desertification of the oases. Prolonged periods of drought dry out the fertile soil, making it easier for the wind to carry it away. The consequence is a dwindling amount of arable farmland. The Moroccan government has introduced a rescue program. One of the measures is the planting of one million date palms. These plants are the heart of an oasis.

The government program is intended to help 6,000 date palm farmers in the region. Some of them live in Hanabou, a small oasis around 50 kilometers away from Erg Chebbi. Life in Hanabou is still largely governed by tradition. The oasis has two schools and a small clinic. Hanabou is a microcosm with an infrastructure sufficient to support its 4,000 residents. Many of them live in the ksar, the old fortified village surrounded by protective walls. Other oases in the area have new buildings, large roads and internet cafés.

Another special feature of Hanabou is the traditional irrigation system used to water the fields. Over time the locals have developed an efficient supply and distribution setup that is subject to strict rules. People here do directly experience the effects of climate change, as the precious water available to them grows scarcer. Still, they are optimistic that they will get by, helped by the traditional ways that enable them to manage their water resources responsibly. The enduring success of their high-maintenance irrigation system reflects how adaptable the oasis lifestyle is to the challenging environmental conditions.

Report: Mabel Gundlach
Camera: Wolf Gebhardt
Photography: Fatima Boughanbour, Mabel Gundlach
Editing: Klaudia Begić