Khettara - How an old irrigation system works

Khettara - How an old irrigation system works

Khettarat explanation in video

One of the main attractions in the Sahara desert of Morocco is the famous "khettara" also knows as khettarat, khotarat, khetaras...You will find some on your way if you booked a 3 days tours to the desert or more, but the best ones that you can even go down and see the underground tunnel are the ones located near Melaab village, between The Gorge of Todgha and Erfoud.
There is no exact date as to when were these khettaras were built, some say the 15th century, some say before and some say after, but the one that sounds accurate is the 17th centery, judged by the state of the tunnel today

Few centuries ago, the access to water in the desert part of Morocco was problematic, not as easy as nowadays..
to irrigate their pieces of land, people in the south east of Morocco used to build what's called "khettara" which is an old irrigation system that was also used in other parts of the world under other names (like Qanat, Canal, Falaj, Foggara, Kakuriz...)
they basically dig a series of wells from the soure of water all the way to their farming fields, these wells are linked together by an underground tunnel.
The tunnel should not obviously be parallel to the ground otherwise it would be impossible to ensure the streaming of water.

sometimes water get blocked by something in the way (mostly by sand as the region gets a lot of sand storms throughout the year) in this case people start checking every single well starting from the fields side.

Once they find water in a well and not in the next one, they know that whatever is blocking the streaming of water is in between these two wells. The next step is to clear the way, to do that a man or two have to go down with a backet and do the job, of course with the help of other men standing on the top of the well.

But that's not the most impressive part, to build this system, every family in the village must dedicate a male member to participate in the constructions 

(it was a job for men not women, and doesn't mean that women didn't work outside the house, they used to actually work in and out, in the fileds, bringing water, worked with animals...)
If a family doesn't participate then it won't get its share of water once the system is running. If a family has no male members or if there is any condition that made it impossible for the men of the family to work, then the family must pay a sum of money to someone else to do the job..
There's a specific person to supervise everything, usually called "Cheikh Elghaba" he was responsible for water distribution so that nobody takes more than their fair share of water. He gets paid by the tribe, just like any small community, every village in the sahara desert (usually inhabited by one tribe or several tribes that are allies) has its own rules, mostly everyone respected the rules of the tribe.

This whole system was handmade using very simple basic tools and resources. now those Khettaras are not working, they are mainly just a touristical stop for the visitor that are heading to Merzouga for camel trekking and sunset watching in the desert dunes. It's a great place that we always recommand for everyone visiting the desert.

Contact informations: Hyper Morocco Tours

Smail Jarrou
Quartier Elmhamid 9
Marrakech 50000 Morocco
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