The recent heatwave, with temperature records broken across Australia, brought to mind a trip I made to Morocco.
I happened upon this particularly beautiful scene in the High Atlas mountains two days drive out of Marrakech during mid-summer. On the low flat deserts east of these mountains I recorded 56ºC on two consecutive days.
I spent a week driving an old rented Renault though the High Atlas and Anti Atlas mountains offering lifts to locals as I went, rarely did I have an empty car. The local bus service is unreliable at best; it sometimes two days late in these remote areas. Few people own a car. It was wonderful being able to be of service to the local villagers and it was not without its moments. Berber is the main language spoken here, some more educated locals speak Arabic and their third language is French, which I don’t speak. English speakers are almost non-existent. On one occasion I gave a very old man and a young boy a lift, possibly great grandfather and great grandson. They shared the front seat; it got a little awkward for a time as we drove some distance through several villages. The old man was blind, and I figured the boy was too young to understand where we were and where it was they needed to be. Finally I found two women and a gathering of young children waiting at a bus stop obviously in need of a lift. They clambered in to the back seat, the car groaned over a few small mountain passes. Chatting with the old man the women determined his stop and we let him off at one of the next villages. This came as a relief.
Well after the sun had gone down I’d booked in to a cheap hotel. On several occasions the night temperatures would hold out at around 42ªC. The mattress would retain the heat of the day like an oven tray, making it almost impossible to sleep until around 5 in the morning when it was time to get up and get going again to catch the best light of the day. I’d soak a sheet and lay it over myself which afforded some relief. An hour or so later it would be completely dry and once more I’d have to repeat the process.
In this heat it’s imperative to drink at least 5 litres of water a day especially when you are moving around like I was.
Many of these ancient villages are being disbanded due to lack of rainfall in recent years. Aquifers are drying; food is becoming increasingly difficult to grow. The cities are swelling while these rural villages become empty. Studies show Morocco will be among the countries most threatened by climate change: rainfall is predicted to drop 4% in the next 20 years, temperatures will continue to rise. The last few decades have seen larger areas of the world enduring longer, and drier droughts. Climate change is altering the water cycle; hotter, drier soils lose their moister faster, intensifying drought conditions.
It’s very concerning to read the statistics regarding fresh water throughout the world. With aquifers drying and glaciers melting, vast populations are going to be without this most vital of human needs. I’m terrified by the prospect of monsoons failing and seasonal glacial melt no longer being a reliable source of water for much of the world’s population. India and China are of particular concern, more than a quarter of the world’s population reside here and many of them rely on glacial melt from the Himalaya for their water.