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Applying The Dpsir Framework For Sustainable Water Management Of The Aflaj System In Al Jabal Al Akhdar, Sultanate Of Oman

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Mohammed Al-Kalbani (PH NX, UK)

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 10: Management of water resources,

Aflaj (singular falaj) are important sources of water for agricultural development. Aflaj are surface and/or underground channels fed by groundwater or a spring, or streams built to provide water to communities for domestic and/or agricultural use. Most aflaj are located in the northern Mountains of the Sultanate of Oman. Al Jabal Al Akhdar (Green Mountain) is the largest structural domain in these Mountains. It has a Mediterranean climate; rainfall is highly variable and is the main source of fresh water.

Al Jabal Al Akhdar has experienced rapid socioeconomic development and urbanization in recent decades. These changes have influenced the aflaj water, which are the lifeline of its agro-ecosystem and therefore human well-being. Climate change and its consequences present very important threats to this unique system. There is very little information describing the effects of anthropogenic activities and climate change on aflaj water in the area. Therefore, this paper proposes measures and policies for sustainable management of aflaj water by assessing the human activities and climatic factors with integrating socio-economic knowledge using a DPSIR (Drivers-Pressures-State-Impacts-Responses) framework.


Integrated analysis of trends and policies was applied for the aflaj water system using the DPSIR framework. This describes the relationships between human activities and ecosystem well-being. The analysis was addressed by identifying the Drivers of human development and associated Pressures that, affect the State and trends of the aflaj water. The current state and changes in aflaj water quality was assessed by collecting samples from five main aflaj in the area over six months during winter and the summer of 2012-2013.

The State of aflaj water quantity was assessed by interviewing farmers/local experts about the current active/inactive number of aflaj; their water flow rate data were also compiled. Climatic data including rainfall and temperature records for 1979 to 2012 were analyzed and the fluctuations in groundwater levels of different well monitoring stations were assessed. The integration story was completed by assessing the Impacts on the agro-ecosystem and aspects of human welfare, and the Responses taken by the government and society.

Results and Discussion

Driving Forces

Driving forces affecting the changes in the state of the aflaj water include increase in population and socioeconomic development as well as agriculture and tourism. There are high demands of aflaj water for agriculture, associated with the over abstraction of groundwater for population and tourism development. The population increased by 288% from 1970 to 2010, and the number of housing units doubled during 1993-2010.

Agriculture is the main economic activity in the area, providing the basis of livelihoods for around 70% of the inhabitants. Livestock husbandry is also part of the mountain agro-ecosystem; goats are the main livestock. Since an asphalted road was opened in 2006, many tourists visit Al Jabal Al Akhdar; and the number of tourists increased from 80,000 to 134,000 in 2013; the number of hotels has increased from one in 2006 to four in 2014.


The Pressures include irrigation practices and excessive groundwater abstraction and consumption; irrigation is by flooding from aflaj and dams. Consequently, water losses from open channels are high and farmers may irrigate their land more than the crop requires. The water consumption from wells increased from 150,000 m³ in 2001 to 580,000 m³ in 2012.

Climate change is the major exogenous Pressure on aflaj water; there have been increases in temperature over last three decades. A comparison of 1979-1995 and 1996-2012 shows highly significant differences in minimum and mean temperatures between these two periods. Highly significant differences were observed over last three decades. There has been also a general decrease in total annual rainfall from 1979 to 2012, with a rate of -9.42 mm per decade, thus reducing water quantity and its availability.

State and Trends

The analysis of the State of aflaj system showed the deterioration in their water quantity and quality. The groundwater level has fluctuated, with markedly lower levels since a high level in 1997. There are highly statistical relationships between rainfall and the depth to groundwater levels. The heavy reliance on groundwater has caused drying of many aflaj; between 1997 and 2013, 38 out of 71 aflaj in the area became inactive.

The aflaj flow rates declined from 1998 to 2012; the analysis of regression showed highly statistical relationships between rainfall and aflaj flow. The fluctuations in aflaj flow create challenges for the farmers trying to irrigate only pomegranate and roses trees. The aflaj irrigation rotation cycle sometimes continues over longer than 15 days. The aflaj water is also not suitable for drinking as most of the samples indicated the presence of pathogenic organisms above the allowable Omani and WHO drinking water standards.


The declining State of aflaj water and reduced of cultivated area have resulted in considerable losses in agricultural income. The agricultural census indicated that pomegranates, rose bushes and nut trees have declined while the deterioration of the pasture land has meant that farmers have to purchase goat meal rather than allowing the goats to graze freely. Farmers depend mainly on pomegranate and rose trees for their income since they have high economic returns. The degraded landscape and agricultural terraces can also Impact on recreational opportunities and tourism revenue.


Several Responses have been taken to maintain and enhance the aflaj water and human well-being; these can have effects on many facets of its quantity and quality, including Drivers and Pressures, or the State, or even the Impacts of the changes. Several legislations and strategies on aflaj water management have been issued. Several projects: construction of dams and maintenance of aflaj were established. Also, public awareness programmes on water conservation practices are organized.


According to DPSIR framework, it was revealed that the major environmental issue in Al Jabal Al Akhdar in recent years has been a shortage in aflaj water. Changing human activities (Drivers) have made changing demands on the in aflaj water in the area (Pressures) and these have resulted in particular in a reduced amount of water (State) available for agriculture which in turn has impacted the local communities and their well-being (Welfare), with some implication of some Responses. From the DPSIR analysis, it can be concluded that the implementation of integrated water resources management through conservation practices and increase water use efficiency in conjunction with climate change mitigation and adaptation measures are a must in the area.

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2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin