Editor’s Note: We discovered this remarkable photo story about the complex impacts of climate change in Morocco while reviewing submissions for the Cortona On The Move festival in Italy. We publish it while experiencing a record-breaking heat wave in Europe.

Located in arid and semi-arid regions and considered ecological bulwarks against desertification and important refuges for biodiversity, oases constitute original ecosystems, 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 real 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 destructive human activities 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.

A man looking for water in the desert © M’hammed Kilito
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 indigenous 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.

Cluster of palm trees. 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
“Before It’s Gone” is an ongoing, long-term, multidisciplinary art 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 local 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.

A shovel in a plot of farmland © M’hammed Kilito
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 heritage sites such as the oasis, which are known to be environmentally sensitive.

Mohammed picking up wood © M’hammed Kilito
The main objective is to draw attention to this situation by alerting public opinion, policymakers and concerned organizations through this project. It is also to protect the ancestral intangible heritage of the nomadic culture in Morocco, as well as the preservation of the oasis ecosystem.

—M’hammed Kilito