In Aghbalou: The Source of Water, Director Remigiusz Sowa explores the most unlikely and perilous of friendships, water and the desert
Arriving in the Todgha Valley, a spectacular river oasis in southern Morocco, seems like an impossible dream. The parched, cracked soil suddenly gives way to green plots of date palms, olive and pomegranate trees, and grains and vegetables. Through the toil and hard work of the region’s Berber inhabitants, irrigation flows, (seemingly out of nowhere), to quench these carefully cultivated plots.
For centuries, agriculture in the region has been made possible by a combination of ingenuity and human sweat. Water has traditionally been sustained through an advanced medieval system of lengthy underground tunnels, known as khettara that channel groundwater to the plots. In recent decades, this system has been augmented by the rumble of water pumps and the black plastic webs of drip systems. Though helping to increase production and sustain the growing population, this has put unprecedented pressure on the area’s aquifers. A number of challenges have emerged: not only groundwater over-extraction and the running dry of many khettaras, but also climate change, population growth, poverty and conflicts over water rights. Challenges caused by other factors and problems that have arisen from modern water irrigation systems have been lumped together.
Khettaras, which must be maintained with the help of knowledge passed down from generation to generation, are increasingly threatened not only by lowering groundwater levels, but also by the absence of people to maintain them due to the exodus of the young. Modern irrigation techniques have, meanwhile, been the subject of controversy, with some considering them as necessary and efficient technological advancement, whilst others view them as an unsustainable practice, threatening the future of agriculture in the region. What is clear, however, is that as people have to dig ever deeper to reach water, the issue of water security in the region is no longer something that can be concealed.
In the face of these many challenges, Aghbalou works to tell the story of individual people and their aspirations for a better future. It tells the story of a family struggling to afford the increasingly expensive fuel that they need to keep their pump going, and of a woman who is struggling to maintain her plot alone while her husband is away seeking work in Casablanca. It tells the story of entrepreneurial desert farm extensions motivated by a desire to ditch the donkey for a car, and of community initiatives to revive abandoned khettara.
These individual stories are intertwined with interviews with prominent academics and NGOs in the field of water management. These include Professor Tony Allan who developed the concept of virtual water, Professor Thierry Ruf who proposed the revival of traditional khettara irrigation through community participation and ecotourism, and with International Development Enterprises, a non-profit organisation that has developed a range of low-cost irrigation systems appropriate for the budgets and land sizes of small farmers.
This ambitious documentary film project seeksto combine a local story of struggle and neglect with a global call to action against the growing challenges of sustaining water and fighting poverty. Living in the UK, it is easy to take water for granted. Even at times when hosepipe bans are in place, it seems impossible to imagine a reality in which the taps run dry. It would be a mistake, though, to overlook the importance of this resource or to ignore the growing challenges of water security around the world. This is one of the main motivating factors behind the project, which seeks to show the value of water by exploring a region where its availability is most threatened.
The director of this project describes Aghbalou as a community driven documentary, focusing on advocacy, rather than commercial interests. The project is being funded through a crowd-funding platform, kickstarter and through the charitable backing of the UK Irrigation Association and the Jack Wright Memorial Trust. With the research and shooting completed, the film is currently in the post-production phase before its premier scheduled for June 2013. For updates or to learn more see the film’s website.
Photo Credits: Anna and Remi Sowa
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