What Barriers Can Be Expected To The Community-Based Water Management Programme Implemented In The Ounila Catchment?

by Christian Javier Larrea

Provenance Of The Research

Title: Community-Based Water Management in the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains. Analysing operational and strategic barriers: A case study in the Ounila Catchment.

Research Question: What barriers can be expected to the community-based water management programme implemented in the Ounila Catchment?

Type of thesis: Master’s thesis

University Affiliation: Utrecht University 

Faculty: Faculty of Geosciences

Course Duration: November 2020 – June 2021


This thesis analyses the formal and informal barriers faced by the Community-based Adaptation (CBA) programme implemented by the NGO PermaAtlas in the Ounila catchment, located on the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains. Placed in one of the most water stressed regions in the world, the subsistence of rural communities in the study area strongly depends on effective and efficient management of water resources. Although researchers and policy makers have promoted Community-based programmes as a panacea to tackle water management issues, analysis of such programmes is limited and poorly demonstrated. With focus on the management of water resources, the barriers to the programme implementation were assessed through multi-criteria analysis using the Adaptative Capacity Framework. According to this analysis, cultural and community barriers, although strong at the beginning of the programme, have been partially overcome reaching now a fragile equilibrium. Currently, financial barriers are the main problem facing the expansion of the programme, as lack of sufficient funds could trigger latent disputes among different communities of the catchment. With this, the lack of adequate and complete monitoring also represents a major issue considering future infrastructure works and the increasing climate uncertainties of the region. Based on this evaluation, recommendations have been made to facilitate the dialogue among communities in order to reduce social unrest and to implement a reliable monitoring programme to quantify changes induced by the project. 

You can access the full thesis by clicking  here.

  1. What were the most important or surprising findings of your work?

The most surprising finding was that, although lack of continuous drinking water was presented as the main problem, this was attributed by the locals to the lack of appropriate management and infrastructure rather than to the pressing water scarcity expected from a semi-arid study area. Interviewees stated that this lack of drinking water affects only the lower classes of the villages, while the most powerful families possess the resources necessary to deal with it; for example vehicles to reach remote water sources. This brought into discussion a recurrent debate in water governance analyses, which is understanding water scarcity as a complex political concept that considers both the physical water scarcity, naturally expected from in a semi-arid region, and the constructed discourse around it, that is to say, the resources available to deal with it. 

Less surprising but still relevant was finding out that communal and cultural problems were the most determinant barriers during the kick-off of the programme. Social and ethnical disputes within and between villages are still present in day-to-day life and, although disagreements were partially overcome, this equilibrium is highly fragile. The potential expansion of the programme to rival villages or the lack of sufficient funds to continue the works are some of the problems that could trigger these latent disputes between and within communities, undoing some of the progress made by PermaAtlas. 

  1. What did you struggle with during the research and/or writing process, and how did you overcome these issues?

The main limitations  during the research process were related to data collection. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic it was impossible to visit the study area. This is a very important aspect in social research where a local and continuous appraisal of the communities would have provided much more detailed information regarding the social interactions around water management. Also, since PermaAtlas (the NGO I worked along with) is currently carrying most of the works in the village of Anguelz, the number of reachable interviewees in that village was much greater than in the other two. Last but not least, the language difference made it difficult to include every idea transmitted by the interviewees into the research. 

Although the impossibility of visiting the study area could not be overcome completely, the data gathering was complemented by analysing a large bibliography and through increasing the number of interviewees, including experts and professionals who had worked with the communities. Although some information could have been lost during translation (regarding the language barriers) measures recommended by other authors were taken to keep  disruption to its lowest.

  1. What are you doing now, and what are your plans for the coming year? Did your research impact those plans in any way?

I am currently working in a freelance capacity as a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank and the Pan-American Health Organization. My plans for the upcoming years are to keep developing myself as a water governance professional with a main focus in the global south. While working as a water engineer a few years ago I realized that working only on the technical aspect was not enough to create impact. This desire to become a multidisciplinary water professional is what pushed me to pursue this master’s programme and thesis. The research I carried out for seven months helped me to confirm that I had chosen the right path and that I want to dedicate my professional life to the promotion of sustainable and equitable water management for those who need it the most.

  1. Do you have any advice for people who are undertaking this type of research?

For those coming from a technical background as I do, I recommend reading as much literature on social studies (anthropology, interview methods, etc.) as possible until you feel confident with these aspects. Also, remember that you are dealing with people who have different backgrounds, perceptions, cultures, and that their answers will be far from objective, so do not expect exact and definitive answers as you would have in a natural sciences research. You will not conclude your research with certainties but rather with more questions than when you started. Finally, consider that the results you obtained, although extremely useful, will be bound to the time and space where your research took place. By definition, community-based programmes are highly context and time dependent so results cannot be directly applicable to other regions or even to the same study area in a few years.

Author Bio: Christian Larrea is a civil engineer from Argentina with a Cum Laude master’s degree in Water Science and Management from Utrecht University. He possesses great experience as WASH engineer and project coordinator in South America. Currently he is working as an external consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank and the Pan-American Health Organization in a wide array of multidisciplinary projects.  His professional life is dedicated to the promotion of sustainable and equitable water management in the global south.

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