<p>A man checks the water level of a well at Merzouga Oasis, in eastern Morocco. Deep wells can deplete the water table, leaving farmers without a water supply.</p>
2023 Photo Contest, Africa, Long-Term Projects

Before It's Gone


M'hammed Kilito

VII Mentor Program/Visura
08 May, 2022

A man checks the water level of a well at Merzouga Oasis, in eastern Morocco. Deep wells can deplete the water table, leaving farmers without a water supply.

Global heating and destructive human activity are threatening Morocco's oases, with devastating social and environmental consequences. 

Oases depend on a delicate balance of three elements – abundant  water supply, good quality soil, and date palms – to function as islands of biodiversity and barriers against desertification. Steadily rising temperatures have led to damaging fires and water scarcity, upsetting this balance and putting the oases’ existence in jeopardy. Overgrazing exacerbates the problem.
In the past, oasis water in Morocco was supplied by underground tunnels known as khattara, which tapped groundwater and brought it to the surface for irrigation. An increasing demand for water, coupled with a dwindling natural supply, means that this sustainable source is insufficient, so people have begun to sink wells (sometimes illegally). Water extracted from lower levels in the water table has a higher salt content, contaminating the soil and affecting its fertility. 

Poor soil and lack of water also imperils date palms, which provide essential shade for many other types of vegetation and wildlife. Academic research at universities in Casablanca and Marrakech reveals that of the 15 million date palms once present in South Atlas oases in Morocco, only four million remained by 2019.

Oasis degradation in turn impacts inhabitants, causing decreased agricultural production, poverty, and displacement, as people abandon oases for life in the city, or to seek work abroad.

M’hammed Kilito documented life in this vanishing environment for three years, focusing on the impact that the climate crisis has on the population. He said: “People in oases live in very remote villages, and understand that to be able to live, to survive and to sustain, they have to have cohesion. They need to help each other. Their whole system of life is based on that. They know that living in a community is the only way they can survive.”

M'hammed Kilito
About the photographer

M'hammed Kilito (b. 1981) is a documentary photographer and National Geographic Explorer based in Casablanca, Morocco. His practice investigates the relationship between individuals or groups and the environment they inhabit. He is interested in capturing narratives that facilitate the comprehension of this relatio...

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Technical information

500C/M Hasselblad

Jury comment

This is a slow burning climate story that portrays the varied impacts of the climate crisis on oasis communities in Morocco. The edit of subtle imagery is executed beautifully and captures the encroachment of the desert on dwellings. At the same time, the photographer manages to emphasize the finite nature of oasis environments which in the near future could disappear forever.