The Khattarat irrigation system of southern Morocco: An ecological heritage struggling to survive

The khettarat of Morocco are an economic and social monument and constitute a national ecological heritage. Not only is the khettara a complex gravity-fed irrigation system, but social structures around it support a culture of sustainable water distribution. Many of the mountain palm oases in Southern Morocco are a result of this traditional system. The khettarat are considered to be one of the oldest traditional and technologically complex irrigation systems in Morocco. Use of the system dates back more than a thousand years, and it can be found in the south and southeast regions of Draa-Tafilalet, Marrakesh, Souss-Massa, and the borders of Jebel Bani. While many of these underground water channels stopped working due to the development of modern technology, some of them are still resisting drought in order to survive and continue to supply many villages with the “elixir of life”: water for irrigation and drinking.

The khettara system itself comprised of several components: a subterranean canal that brings water from an underground aquifer to the surface, a series of ventilation/maintenance shafts, and a complex series of segia canals that are used to irrigate agricultural features. The underground water channel can extend up to 45km in length with depths of up to of 15 meters. The ventilation/maintenance shafts spaced between 5 and 25 meters apart. However, many of the khettarat in the Anti-Atlas are much shorter and shallower than those in less mountainous regions of the country. The size of the khettarat varies according to the geological and environmental conditions in which they are built.

Recently, an anthropological research project, which included a multidisciplinary team of a number of local and international participants, surveyed many of these khattarat in Ammelne , Tafraout, Ait Mansour, Isafen, Tata, Akka, Ait Ouabelli and Taghjijt. This project aimed to understand the nature of these hidden treasures and involved many local community members who are responsible for the khettarat in these areas.

Moulay Elmostapha Nokraoui

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