Desert Oasis Towns May Disappear

Mayor Lahbibi fears for the future of Morocco’s oasis towns, such as his municipality Tata, Morocco.
 
By Andy McElroy

RABAT, 3 October 2013 - The mayor of an isolated oasis town yesterday warned that these 'desert islands of humanity' may disappear as a result of climate change unless drastic action is taken.

"Everyone is talking about the Pacific Islands vanishing but no one is talking about the little islands in the desert, like my town, which could soon disappear also because of climate change,' Mayor Molay El Mahdi Lahbibi of Tata, Morocco, said at the world's biggest forum of local leaders.

Mayor Lahbibi's dramatic plea for attention and action was delivered at the United Cities and Local Governments conference in Rabat, Morocco, which closes Friday 4 October.

"With the increase in disasters we suddenly realised that we are a little vulnerable township in the middle of the desert,' said Mayor Lahbibi, whose municipality Tata was the first in Morocco to join the Making Cities Resilient Campaign, launched three years ago by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

"It is not a Godsend living in our vulnerable oasis. But these towns represent a great tradition and a great heritage; so what is at stake is beyond simply the people who live there."

Tata has a population of 16,000 and lies several hundred kilometres to the south-west of Morocco's developed coastal strip and, in the words of its Mayor, the locality leads an increasingly fragile existence.

"I can see the desert encroaching on our town and clearly water management is a major issue for us. We live in an environment in which 15 minutes of heavy rain can cause major landslides," he said.

Mayor Lahbibi estimates that 1.5 million people live in Morocco's desert oasis towns but they are struggling to hold on to their young people, many of whom are joining the migration to the country's major cities.

Despite the challenges, the Mayor sounded a note of optimism: "The past four to five years has seen planning approaches improve.

"However, we do continue to pay the price for decisions made in the past. It means we all need to join in making today better than yesterday and making tomorrow better than today. We have to be courageous to strengthen our resilience."

The United Cities and Local Governments conference is the world's largest gathering of mayors and municipality leaders. More than 3,000 delegates are stressed the increasing importance and influence of city and local leadership.

Mayor Lahbibi was speaking at an Official Side Event entitled 'Access to Risk Information for Citizens, Local Governments and Partners', organised by UNISDR and facilitated by its Head Ms Margareta Wahlström.

Oslo, the capital of Norway, recently became the 1,504th municipality to join UNISDR's Making Cities Resilient Campaign, which seeks to strengthen local governance and reduce urban risk.
The United Nations General Assembly requested UNISDR to facilitate the development of a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction The United Nations General Assembly requested UNISDR to facilitate the development of a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction.
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