Drought Parches Morocco

Drought Parches Morocco
Drought Parches Morocco

Several years of drought have left a mark on Morocco. Satellite observations of the North African country show that croplands and wildlands that are normally green and lush in the rainy winter months are instead parched and brown, and reservoirs that once brimmed with water are nearly empty.

On February 19, 2024, the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image (right) showing parched landscapes around Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco. The MODIS on the Aqua satellite captured the other image (left) of the same area on February 12, 2023. While drought was present in winter 2023 as well, the situation worsened in 2024.

Moroccan officials have called the situation “disastrous” noting that nearly 70 percent less rain has fallen in the past few months compared to an average year, according to Reuters. Analysis by the Global Drought Observatory indicates that the prolonged rainfall deficit has been accompanied by unusual heat in recent months, which has also taken a toll on plants.

The prolonged lack of adequate rainfall has caused reservoirs to drop to critically low levels. Al Massira Dam, Morocco’s second-largest reservoir and a key supply of water for farmers near Casablanca, dropped as low as 1 to 2 percent of its capacity in February 2024. Collectively, Morocco’s reservoirs were 25 percent full in mid-February compared to 32 percent for the same period last year. The reservoir was nearly full between 2009 and 2015, but its water levels began plunging in 2016 and have remained low since.

Key reservoirs have diminished so much that many farmers have scaled back the size of plantings and reduced how much water they are using to water crops. The amount of farmland irrigated with water from reservoirs in January 2024 was roughly half of what it was before the current dry spell, according to Moroccan officials.

And what crops have been planted are struggling. Data from AGMET Earth Observation Indicators, a tool developed by NASA Harvest and international partners from the GEOGLAM (GEO Global Agricultural Monitoring) initiative, indicated that winter wheat crops in northern Morocco were much less green and healthy than usual. The data come from the NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) product—a measure of photosynthetic activity.

Some Moroccan cities have instituted water saving measures including limiting how much water can be used for activities such as washing cars, watering lawns, and bathing, according to Morocco World News.

NASA Earth Observatory images by Wanmei Liang, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. Story by Adam Voiland.

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