Before it's gone

An ongoing, long-term photographic project that highlights the complex and multidimensional issues of oasis degradation in Morocco and its impact on its inhabitants.

Located in arid and semi-arid regions and considered an ecological bulwark against desertification and an important refuge for biodiversity, oases constitute an original ecosystem, based on the right balance of three elements: The abundance of water, the quality of the soil, and the presence of date palms. The date palms with their parasol-shaped foliage create a humid microclimate, shaded from the wind and favorable to the development of plants. For the past twenty years, this balance no longer exists and these islands of greenery in the middle of the desert are suffering the impacts of human intervention and climate change. Indeed, according to official statistics from the Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture, over the last century, Morocco has already lost two-thirds of its 14 million palm trees.

In 2019, Greenpeace warned of the threat of extinction facing oases due to the considerable impact of high temperatures on their water resources, resulting in a decrease in agricultural and livestock activities and the displacement of their populations. According to the organization, the frequency of droughts has increased over the past twenty to forty years in Morocco from once every five years to once every two years.

'Before it’s gone' is an ongoing, long-term photographic project that highlights the complex and multidimensional issues of oasis degradation in Morocco and its impact on its inhabitants. Over the past few years, I have visited many oases, where I have made strong connections with their inhabitants. I was able to understand this rich environment but also its glaring realities. I realized that desertification, recurrent droughts and fires, changes in agricultural practices, overexploitation of natural resources, rural exodus, and the sharp drop in the water table are all imminent threats to the existence of oases.

I decided to work on this project to highlight these multiple concerns rarely covered by the media and largely unknown to the general public. My research also aims to better understand different approaches, practices, and programs applied to the valorization, conservation, and sustainable development of oases, which are known to be environmentally sensitive by continuing working on this series.

The main objective is to draw attention to this situation by alerting public opinion, policymakers, and concerned organizations through this project. It is also a demand to protect the ancestral intangible heritage of the nomadic culture in Morocco, as well as the preservation of the oasis ecosystem.

© M'hammed Kilito - Image from the Before it's gone photography project
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When we are in the dry and arid desert, there is one thing we look for almost instinctively and that is the green color. It is the promise of water and therefore of life. This is the last grouping of palm trees in Tanseest, what used to be an oasis 15 km from the town of Assa.

© M'hammed Kilito - Image from the Before it's gone photography project
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Youth emigration is one of the major problems facing the oases of southern Morocco. Many of the young people I met are considering crossing illegally to the Canary Islands due to global warming, water crises, lack of job opportunities, isolation and lack of primary resources. This has a negative impact on the maintenance of the oases, which need their youth to take care of them. Hicham emigrated to France for a year and after doing several difficult and poorly paid jobs, he decided to return to Morocco. To his surprise, no one encouraged him. Especially his family, who he thought would support him in his decision, had a very negative reaction. Today, Hicham is a fulfilled young man, happy to be in Morocco. He lives in Guelmim, works in a school and is active in the education and associative field.

© M'hammed Kilito - Image from the Before it's gone photography project
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Tighmert only water source. The wells are the innovation that has made it possible to recover new and larger desert areas for cultivation. Water, in this way, becomes available on-demand, as if it were an unlimited resource. The level of the water table has dropped drastically in Tighmert oasis over the last 5 years. Water and its management is the major problem that conditions the future of Moroccan oases, regardless of climatic hazards that become a structural problem to defy.

© M'hammed Kilito - Horse grazing at the oasis of M'hamid El Ghizlane
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Horse grazing at the oasis of M'hamid El Ghizlane

© M'hammed Kilito - Image from the Before it's gone photography project
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When he finishes school, Mustapha goes to help on his uncle's farm. He likes to water the plants and take care of the animals. He would like to become a farmer and continue living in his oasis.

© M'hammed Kilito - Swings in M'hamid El Ghizlane oasis
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Swings in M'hamid El Ghizlane oasis

© M'hammed Kilito - A shovel in an agricultural field in Zagora oasis
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A shovel in an agricultural field in Zagora oasis

© M'hammed Kilito - A clown playing with a child in Guelmim
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A clown playing with a child in Guelmim

© M'hammed Kilito - Details inside a house/museum dedicated to the oasian culture in Tighmert oasis
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Details inside a house/museum dedicated to the oasian culture in Tighmert oasis

© M'hammed Kilito - Zakia sewing peacefully at home in the oasis of Skoura
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Zakia sewing peacefully at home in the oasis of Skoura

© M'hammed Kilito - Image from the Before it's gone photography project
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Adobe wall in Tighmert oasis. The pisé technique consists in building walls in raw earth, which are erected and compacted by successive blocks. It is a technique that is becoming less and less used because the inhabitants prefer to build in concrete nowadays.

© M'hammed Kilito - Image from the Before it's gone photography project
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Desertification invades many villages in Southern Morocco. Global warming and drought cycles contribute to killing the palm trees who usually protect the oasis against desertification.

© M'hammed Kilito - Image from the Before it's gone photography project
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Every Sunday morning, very early Mohammed the Skoura oasis potter goes to collect wood to be able to bake the pottery he has been producing during the whole week.

© M'hammed Kilito - A man looking for water in a well surrounded by sand dunes at the oasis of Merzouga
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A man looking for water in a well surrounded by sand dunes at the oasis of Merzouga

© M'hammed Kilito - Image from the Before it's gone photography project
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According to an inhabitant of the oasis of Tighmert who accompanied me, it is a dromadery that got lost in the desert and died out of thirst.