Responding to climate change and coastal vulnerability in Morocco

Participatory action research for planning and resource management

For effective and sustainable adaptation to climate change, a wide range of stakeholders must be involved in decision-making processes. Capacity-building, social learning and participatory action research are all important in enabling wide participation and representation.

The combination of coastal development and climate change

Morocco’s rural northeast coast is increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change – sea-level rise, storm surges and coastal flooding. People of the rural provinces of Nador and Berkane, between the Rif Mountains and the Mediterranean, depend on fishing, farming and livestock raising. Life here is already hard; support from relatives overseas keeps families out of poverty, but does little to create jobs.

The combined effects of climate change and rapid development are changing these coastal areas. Farmers and pastoralists are coping with less rain. When they come, the rains are often torrential, increasing erosion of the fragile mountain soils. Development pressures are destroying wetlands that protect against flooding and erosion. With more frequent storms and rising seas, the very assets that attract tourists and investment are threatened. Several Moroccan beaches have already been lost to erosion.

Factoring climate change into development plans

Local authorities and national ministry officials are all too aware that the wellbeing of this region depends on protecting natural resources. Local and national plans for coastal-zone management are under development. However, to date, there has been little solid information on what climate change may bring, or how local communities might adapt.

Researchers led by Morocco’s Ecole nationale forestière d’ingenieurs (ENFI) aim to fill that gap, pooling their knowledge of climate-data analysis, coastal dynamics and social research. They aim to widen participation in planning, to meet the region’s competing needs. According to project leader, Abdellatif Khattabi, ministry and provincial authorities have been doing land planning without a roadmap of coastal dynamics. “This project will add that knowledge,” he says, “using, among other data, aerial surveys dating back to the 1980s to give a picture of how the coast has changed.”

Encouraging women to join the debate

Understanding the resources on which local people rely, and how they see themselves as vulnerable to climate change, is an important part of the picture. ENFI is working with the Faculty of Education at Canada’s University of Moncton and the Coastal Union (EUCC) to develop processes to involve local stakeholders, and raise their awareness of the issues.

Naima Faouzi is used to seeing few women at formal meetings of rural representatives. So, she reaches them wherever they can be found – this Saturday, at a craft sale to mark International Women’s Day. “This is one of the most conservative regions of Morocco,” she explains, “and mindsets around gender are difficult to change.” As a social-science researcher examining how people may be vulnerable to climate change, she believes it is particularly important to reach women, who have limited voice in local decisions, and even less control over the land they depend on.

Household surveys so far indicate that local people are aware of climate change and link it to the rising temperatures, drought, torrential rains and flooding experienced in recent years. They worry about how climate change will affect farming, fishing and tourism, and expect that it will directly affect their families over the next 30 years.

Framing policy choices for a more secure future

In the fertile lands near the Moulouya-rivermouth conservation area, farmers used to grow market vegetables. They have been switching to salt-tolerant cereals because of increasing salinity in the aquifers.

Across their fields is another kind of development strategy. Where a juniper forest used to buffer the river valley, is a new tourism mega-project. Set on low-lying wetlands near an eroding shoreline, this 27,000-bed development, with road, golf courses and swimming pools, represents one vision for the region. Saaidi El Hosseine, President of Boudinar rural commune, has a different vision for his community, one of the region’s poorest and most isolated. He thinks that small-scale agro-tourism, hosted by individual families, could work hand-in-hand with traditional agricultural and fishing livelihoods.

For CCAA programme officer, Guy Jobbins, the value of the research led by ENFI lies in helping local people and policymakers to make choices. “Here we see many competing pressures in a limited amount of coastal space,” he notes. “It is important to bring stakeholders into processes shaping decisions, to ensure the benefits of development are fairly shared and protected from the effects of a changing climate. Choices made now will shape the region’s future.”