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Morocco: A Watershed for Education and Health

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In Morocco’s majestic Draa Valley, in Zagora Province, the beneficial links between rural water supply, education and health have become exceedingly clear. Only a few years ago, 10 year old Houda was one of thousands of rural schoolgirls who spent hours every day fetching water for their families. More than two-thirds of girls in this area did not attend school.

Today, however, Houda’s generation of rural Moroccans are benefiting from new water-supply facilities constructed throughout the countryside. In a bustling schoolhouse, she and her classmates exemplify a sweeping transformation: during the past four years, rural primary school attendance for girls has skyrocketed from 30 to 51 percent.

What made the difference? In 1998, the Moroccan government launched the National Program for Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (PAGER), constructing and rehabilitating water supply and sanitation facilities in 27 rural provinces. Initially funded with a $10 million loan from the World Bank, PAGER proved such a resounding success that bilateral donors offered an additional $300 million to replicate it throughout the country.

Before PAGER, only 20 percent, or 2.6 million, of Morocco’s rural population had access to safe drinking water. Today, more than 6.4 million, or over 50 percent, have clean water and adequate sanitation, an improvement that has dramatically diminished water-related diseases such as diarrhea. Rural Moroccans played a pivotal role. Through water user associations, villagers determined the facilities they needed, participated in project construction and received training for water-system management. Projects ranged from simple installation of wells with handpumps to more complex distribution systems designed for house connections. Ultimately, each association’s decision-making capacity enhanced rural political voice.

“It is a social revolution and an extraordinary change PAGER has introduced into Morocco’s countryside,” says Professor Khadija Bourorach of the Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II in Rabat, a PAGER consultant. “Thanks to these associations, a new vision is growing for local development and democracy, with more equality between women and men than has ever existed.”

For Houda—and one day, for her own daughters—that is a change that makes a world of difference.

Updated: November 2003

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