Dubbed ‘the door of the desert’, the Moroccan city of Ouarzazate is combating land degradation, loss of biodiversity and desertification by building a greenbelt of trees – irrigated by treated wastewater – and constructing North Africa’s largest solar energy plant.
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Once completed in 2019, the Noor-Ouarzazate solar power plant will generate 18% of Morocco’s annual electricity. It will save the country 1 million tonnes of oil equivalent and prevent the emission of 3.7 million tonnes of CO2.
The plant is part of Morocco’s ambitious Solar Energy Programme, which will see five solar power projects, spread over 10,000 hectares, built by 2020.
‘So far, we managed to plant 400 hectares. This will help us to stop desertification, decrease land degradation and protect the city from strong winds and dust clouds.’
Youssef Hammouzaki, Project Manager from the High Commission for Water, Forestry and Desertification Control of Morocco
In recent years Morocco has imported 95% of its energy as fossil fuels, providing subsidies on these fuels at a cost of $1-4 billion per year.
With a growing population, rising living standards and increasing power demand from cities and energy-intensive industry, one of Morocco’s key priorities is to increase and diversify its energy supply.
Inhabited by 60,000 people, Ouarzazate is one of Southern Morocco’s major tourism hubs. However, its location – on a bare plateau in the High Atlas Mountains – makes it vulnerable to desertification and desert storms.
These affect the local communities by deteriorating living conditions and accelerating land degradation and loss of biodiversity.
To mitigate these environmental challenges, Morocco, with support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Korea Forest Service (KFS), is building a greenbelt of trees around Ouarzazate and greening the surrounding drylands using treated wastewater and clean energy for irrigation.
The success of this pilot project has encouraged national and local authorities to scale it up to a second phase.
The project used an innovative approach to involve local population by creating new job opportunities and using their traditional knowledge and experience.
The residents’ ownership of the initiative resulted in a high level of support and community engagement in looking after the trees.
‘This project has created jobs for us and opportunities to use our knowledge and experience. There was a time when trees were dying. Nobody could figure out the cause but with my colleagues, we discovered that the problem was coming from the soil we use to plant trees. We advised the project manager and the problem was solved.
‘With this project, we have now stable and sustained income to support our families and improve our livelihoods.’
Lhoussine Chetma, an inhabitant of Ouarzazate and employee of the project
The greenbelt has also created recreational spaces for the urban population, providing an innovative way to raise community awareness and encourage public participation in the prevention of land degradation and biodiversity loss.
Phase two of the project will focus on awareness raising, partnerships, and sharing the experience with other regions in Morocco and abroad.
‘We use this innovative project to raise awareness of our community to plant trees to protect our city from dust storms and desertification. The project helps us with creating jobs for youth and improving their livelihoods.
‘We are working with local authorities to sustain this project by educating and sensitizing the local community. We hope to get more people to embrace the greenbelt and protect it.’
Mohamed ben Aissa, president of Maroc Jeune, a local NGO
Click here to find out more about The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy and the Moroccan Solar Plan.
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