International Symposium on
Drylands Ecology and Human Security

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Contemporary Development of Dune Fields – A Chance for Local Economic Growth?
(On the Example of Southern Morocco)


Maciej Dluzewski

Department of Geomorphology, Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies
Warsaw University,
Warsaw, Poland



The development of dune fields has been the subject of long-standing research worldwide and is usually described as one of the results of the desertification process. The pace of development of this process is connected with direct and indirect human activity (Mainguet 1991, Goudie 1993). The direct activities (agriculture, water resources management, the functioning of cities, etc.) have their impact on natural environment changes of local or regional range. The reasons of such changes which cause the development of dune fields are usually easy to determine and they refer to specific dune fields. The indirect influence of human activities on the development dynamics of specific dune fields considered equivalent to the global human influence on climate changes is much more difficult to estimate. In the current studies mostly negative overtones of this process are considered, irrespective of whether the studies refer to direct or indirect influence.

The research carried out in Morocco point to the fact that the development of most of the dune fields of the region is connected with direct human activity. It is an activity which causes local lowering of groundwater level due to the dams built on rivers which flow to the south from the Atlas Mountains. The result of this activity is a dynamic development of dune fields in the Coude du Dra region, which caused serious difficulties in human economy there (Dluzewski 2003). It is particularly visible where households and farmlands are buried under sand dunes in the area of Mhamid village – the last of the Wadi Dra valley oasis, inhabited by around 2000 people (Zainabi 2004).

Despite many negative effects, due to the development of dune fields at present the Mhamid village is going through a significant investment boom related to the tourism development. In the last dozen or so years the number of accommodation places rose from between ten and twenty to around 500 in hotels and around 200 to 300 in comfortable tents. One may observe a dynamic development of active individual and organized tourism. One-day or two-day-trips by 4WD cars and few-day-excursions on camels have become popular. In the area of research it has been found that despite the theoretically unfavorable conditions many people migrate to Mhamid not only from the neighboring territory, where there are no dune fields (lower level workers – drivers, head chefs, cleaning staff, assistant workers, etc.) but also from distant places, several hundred kilometers away (mostly camel drovers from Middle Atlas and Antiatlas) and even form big cities (higher level employees – hotel managers, employees who have command of foreign languages, who are computer literate and able to work at the reception desks, etc.). The nearby dune fields have their impact on the development of services, which are only indirectly connected with tourism. It has been found that in the area of Mhamid in high season around 2000 people from outside the village are employed to carry out activities which are directly or indirectly related to tourism. It leads to a conclusion that the dynamic development of aolian formations which are undoubtedly a tourist attraction can have negative effects but it can also stimulate the economic development of the region in southern Morocco as well as in other regions of the world.

To conclude, we should highlight that despite the numerous, mostly economic, positive aspects of tourism enumerated above, such as dynamic development, in a relatively small area desertification it has obviously a negative impact on natural environment, from dirt to water deficiency. An intense tourist circulation contributes to the growth of the dune fields development dynamics through the local intensification of deflation process caused by great intensity of road traffic and excessive number of animals used by tourists. That is why we have to remember that investing in tourism development, especially in permanent infrastructure accompanied by dynamic development of dune fields can within several to a dozen or so years become unprofitable for the investor who would have to fight the dune fields systematically covering the site. The problem does not exist in the case of those who invest in tourist infrastructure in the area of old dune fields considered stable, e.g. in the area of Erg Chebbi in southern Morocco. Therefore, before taking the decision to invest it is important to estimate the speed and dynamics of changes and the direction of dune fields spreading.