Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Praying for Rain: Morocco's reaction to climate change

Yesterday my flight landed in Casablanca after spending 3 weeks at home on the East coast. When I was home, no matter how much I tried thinking about going back, it was difficult to fully visualize what would be waiting for me. I am still growing accustomed to my international lifestyle (not that I’m complaining, but it is certainly a transition from growing up in a Boston suburb and taking the occasional week-long family trip outside the country). Just as it takes a few days to adjust one’s biological clock, I believe that with your mind and heart in different places, I think it is possible to have a few days of emotional jet lag as well. 

However, let’s get one thing straight: I am beyond enthused to have the opportunity to be here. I am also very pleased to say that my language skills haven’t seemed to have atrophied at all during their lack of use back in the United States. If anything, I feel refreshed from my weeks at home and am ready to give the next few months my all. 

What struck me with being home was how mild the weather was on average. Majority of my days home had temperatures in the 40’s when this season is supposed to be filled with snow, ice, and extreme wind chill. While it was certainly pleasant to not have to wear snow boots everyday, I couldn’t help but feel anxious about this abnormally warm weather. Where did winter go? 

Leaving work this afternoon in Rabat, I remarked to a co-worker about how I forgot how this time of day felt like here during the winter - it is nearly dusk and the air is filled with a cold humidity. She instantly understood what I was describing and told me the Arabic word for it: na-da. We began talking about how the climate change is affecting Morocco. The winter months are supposed to be when Morocco gets the majority of its rainfall. When I was in Morocco in the spring semester of 2010, it rained almost everyday in February, and I was told that it was a continuation of very similar weather in January as well. As an agrarian society, Moroccans place a high value on the seasonal rains and are very concerned about what its absence could mean in the months ahead. Rain has been described to me many of times by locals as the “money of Morocco”. Especially with a large portion of the country in a desert climate, it is worrisome that the lack of rain could equal immense droughts later on in the year during the hotter months. 

King Mohamed VI is no exception to this growing concern. Last Friday, the King ordered that everyone go to the mosque during Friday mid-day prayer to pray for rain. While this royal decree may seem like an archaic remedy, Morocco is not the only Muslim country to have done this. On Christmas Eve, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah called on his citizens all over the country to pray for rain as well. 

While the Moroccan King’s sought God’s assistance to alleviate this symptom of climate change, it doesn’t change the fact that the Moroccan government recognizes that it is going to take more than prayer to change the environmental damage already done. The Moroccan government has created a national environmental policy that stresses the importance of societal awareness. It has also already established a national inventory for sources of emission and of energy resources as well as signed and ratified the most recent global climate change treaties at the Summit Convention in Rio in 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol in 2002. Though statistically Morocco’s contribution to global emissions is rather insignificant to international averages, the Moroccan government continues to carry out a vigorous environmental policy based primarily on the establishment of a legal team to carry out national regulation.

A map of Morocco showing average yearly rainfall

It is now Wednesday evening in Rabat and there is still no sign of rain in the forecast. I walk past produce stands filled with crates of brightly colored fruits and vegetables and wonder to myself what this scene will look like a few months from now if the rain doesn’t come. Whether by an act of God or an atmospheric shift, I hope that the rains come soon.