Water, Climate Change, and Tourism: The Hydrological Dimension of Morocco’s Economic Development Strategy

By Gregory W. White
Submitted to Session P3905 (Natural Resource Politics and Climate Change in the Middle East and North Africa, 2014 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
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This paper examines the hydrological challenges of Morocco’s enduring emphasis on tourism as a viable economic sector. It juxtaposes the ambitious efforts the Government of Morocco has taken to capitalize on its historical and cultural patrimony—as well as its relative political stability in the region—against the ongoing hydrological challenges confronting the country. The Moroccan National Tourist Office has embarked in recent years on an effort to increase visits to the country, including a 2014 campaign to “MEET Morocco”—i.e., casting Morocco as a destination for professional meetings, conferences and exhibitions. Such tourism is seen as complementary to the longstanding emphases on adventure and luxury tourisms. Yet, it all comes at a time of increasing hydrological stress in the country: the decline of potable water, poor delivery infrastructure, the salinization of ground water, and the high demand for water in other sectors (e.g., industry and agriculture). Such stress is likely to accentuate with Morocco’s geographical position in the Mediterranean basin, a region long understood by IPCC reports to be at particular risk from warming temperatures and declining rainfall.

The paper focuses on the politics of the dilemma. First, the transmission of knowledge gained from climate and earth sciences to political actors is germane. Second, even as GOM officials may understand and acknowledge the challenges to varying degrees, they also are caught in an array of institutional and social pressures: e.g., bureaucratic (interministerial politics between various ministries), economic (job creation and pressure from tourist individuals), and security (the maintenance of the country’s stability for international tourists). Third, as the literature on the political economy of tourism emphasizes, the ongoing “branding” of a country is essential; in this instance, the sustainability of that branding may be jeopardized by the hydrological challenges.

Research for this work is conducted this summer and fall with 2 planned trips to Rabat, Casablanca, and Marrakech to interviews officials in the NTO; the Ministry of Tourism; and the Ministry of Energy, Mining, Water and the Environment. Additionally, empirical analyses of the country’s hydrological resources will be closely examined.