What global warming means for Morocco’s nomads | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 19.11.2016
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What global warming means for Morocco’s nomads

The World Climate Summit 2016 has ended with 45 countries agreeing to switch to renewable energy by 2020. But it remains unclear if this decision comes in time to preserve an endangered lifestyle.

Marokko Merzouga (DW/V. Haiges )

Nomad tents in southeast Morocco


"A sandstorm is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to you" says Mustafa, as he wraps his scarf around his face to protect himself from the sand. "Sometimes they last for hours and you can easily get lost in it".  Mustafa has to cross the desert each week on a motorbike on his way to the small desert town of Merzouga to look for work. A Berber by origin, Mustafa lives with his family who are pastoral nomads in the Sahara Desert in southeast Morocco, close to the Algerian Border. Their livelihood comes through moving with their herd from one place to another. However, in recent years, droughts and rainfall fluctuations have threatened their traditional lifestyle.


Marokko Merzouga (DW/V. Haiges)

Nomad camp in southeast Morocco

Worldwide consequences of climate change

In total, 40 per cent of earth's surface consists of arid and semi-arid regions where livestock farming is the main source of income. These areas support over a billion people worldwide. Over centuries, pastoral nomads have developed a well-balanced system in harmony with the natural environment. They move their herds to wherever the vegetation offers the best grazing at that time. A positive side effect of this mobility has been that parts of the grazing land had time to recover.

It is in this delicate eco-system that the effects of climate change are visible. Rainfall fluctuations and increased droughts have reduced the availability of vegetation for livestock herding. As a result, pastoral nomads worldwide are loosing their livelihood, leading to poverty and famine. These conditions also raise the possibility of violent conflicts between different nomadic groups over access to scare resources, such as grazing land, cattle and drinking water. The WMO has stated that at least half of the extreme weather events in recent years are due to human induced global warming. Those events have damaged food and farming security, affecting more than 60 million people worldwide, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Nomadic lifestyle on a decline in Morocco

What is also happening in Morocco is that nomadic families are increasingly resettling in cities, or else they have at least one family member looking for other sources of income. In Merzourga, many former nomads have resettled in the hope of finding a better life. "It is becoming more and more difficult to live as a nomad in the desert" says Basilm, a Berber and former nomad who, after living for more than 50 years in the desert, now lives in Merzourga.

Marokko Merzouga (DW/V. Haiges )

Basilm in his home

Back at the nomad's tents, Mustafa's family is not yet ready to give up on their lifestyle. As night falls in the Sahara, the children wait for their parents' return. While the mother brings their herd back, Mustafa stays in town for work. If global warming continues at its current rate, it is unclear whether his family will be able to survive for much longer out there.

Marokko Merzouga (DW/V. Haiges )

Mustafa's children waiting for their parents' return