Innovative System Holds Promise for Bringing Water to Arid Regions

Innovative System Holds Promise for Bringing Water to Arid Regions

Severe water shortages afflict some arid regions in Africa due to scant rainfall. Gaathier Mahed, an environmental scientist specializing in groundwater management, explores the potential of the ancient “qanat system” to address this issue.

Underground reservoirs, known as aquifers, are strategically located atop valleys or near mountains. The qanat system harnesses these aquifers, utilizing subterranean tunnels to transport water over long distances through gravity. The tunnels then emerge at lower elevations.

Upon exiting the tunnel, farmers can employ the water for crop irrigation, while communities can access it through wells along the tunnel’s path. This communal system, dating back to the 9th century, involves shared management and benefits, fostering community bonds in contrast to contemporary water disputes.

The intricate system adheres to laws regulating tunnel construction, proximity, and exit locations. Ownership near exits grants priority water usage, coupled with responsibilities for maintenance.

Qanats, recognized as “foggara” in North Africa, “falaj” in Oman, and “qarez” in parts of Asia, have a historical presence in arid areas of North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Originating in Persia around the first millennium BC, qanat knowledge spread with the Islamic Empire.

While some qanat systems, such as those in Iran, enjoy heritage protection, challenges hinder wider adoption in Africa. Geological prerequisites include fractured sandstones, a specific groundwater level, and suitable slopes. Construction is labor-intensive, covering vast areas and requiring annual maintenance to remove silt buildup.

Unfortunately, declining knowledge and urban migration contribute to the neglect of qanats, leading to some drying up due to over-exploitation.

Despite these challenges, the qanat system boasts several advantages. It operates sustainably using gravity, eliminating the need for electricity. Minimal water loss to evaporation, coupled with the ability to irrigate vast areas upon reaching floodplains, makes it a viable solution.

Furthermore, the qanat system promotes social cohesion by involving diverse skills in maintenance. Its lifespan surpasses that of conventional wells, and the water quality from mountain sources is superior, with lower salinity, benefiting both crops and communities.