The moving border of the Sahara
From a fertile valley to a dry desert
A native of M’hamid El Ghizlane – an oasis town facing the dunes of the Moroccan Sahara –, Ali remembers with nostalgia this picture-perfect environment. He grew up as a nomad and a shepherd, spending a vast amount of time wandering the beautiful emptiness of the neighbouring Sahara. He easily navigates in this peculiar environment, which he loves dearly. Just like a white page, the desert is a land where the imagination can run completely free. Yet, he can’t help but worry about the future of the oasis. In the last twenty years, the Sahara has kept coming closer to the village – gaining about one kilometre according to Ali –, pushing away its inhabitants and threatening their livelihoods.
A landscape of desolation
Today, the waving horizon of sandy dunes has replaced the infinite silhouettes of date-palms and fruit trees. The old and the new M’hamid face each other on the banks of the Drâa, connected by a bridge that now crosses over sand, not water. In both sides of the dry river, traditional kasbahs are half-buried in the burning sand. Nature seems to be thoroughly fighting to claim back its territory as it has become hostile – almost vengeful – over the years. Sand storms are frequent, filling in-house patios with orange dunes and turning agricultural parcels into dry land.
Once a land of wildlife – M’hamid El Ghizlane is also called “the gazelles plain” –, the surrounding landscape is now consistently arid. The local dam is no longer active, for there is no water to retain anymore. The lakes have dried up, leaving a hint of their past existence in the form of strange patterns covering the dehydrated soil. What’s to blame? Global warming? As convenient and trending as this answer would be, the truth lies elsewhere.