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The Traditional Aflaj Irrigation System


HISTORY AND ORIGIN OF FALAJ IRRIGATION SYSTEM The system of aflaj consists of tapping the water table of the mountains and leading the water by man-made subterranean channels and siphons across the wadi beds to the plains where it is used for irrigation and other domestic purposes. The falaj history in Oman goes back to the Persian era when Persian settlers introduced the qanat system thousands of years ago. Qanat in Persia was described in-depth in many literature and have been studied in term of geological, hydrological and social effects on the settlements of the arid regions. Sutton mentioned that aflaj provided Omanis with water for 1,500-2,000 years and many of the present systems are over a thousand years old. Cressey stated that the idea of Persian origin and dates back more than 2000 years; the palace city of Persepolis is thought to have been supplied by qanats about 500 B.C. Near the Mediterranean, qanats are erroneously attributed to the Romans. The falaj system is known in as karez in southeast Asia, foggara in North Africa, and qanat in Persia and west and central Asia reported that the qanat system is associated with Persia, however, under Arab influence this system introduced to North Africa and even to remote places such as Madrid.


Falaj or qanat system is often found in other countries of Arabia. It is found in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrein. Serjeant reported that the irrigation in Oman is as complex as in south-eastern Arabia, but the technical terms are different.


Ancient Omanis were possessing technical knowledge of digging deep aflaj shafts and construction of tens of meter deep aflaj in order to tap groundwater and convey it to the ground surface through the tunnels before it is directed to the cultivated lands. Aflaj were constructed at that time by using primitive methods and excavation tools. The construction of some aflaj took many years for completion. The word falaj derives from an ancient Semitic root (plg) means to divide, which is applied to an organization for distributing water amongst those who have rights to it. Birks mentioned that the falaj system had been established for up to 2000 years. The early settlers of Oman found in falaj their aim for a permanent and stable water and food supply which helped in producing more organized communities. These rural communities live under a chronic threat of drought, and have developed this system as a response to shortage of rainfall which sometimes extend to three years. The qanats or aflaj had revolutionized the conditions for agriculture by providing access to groundwater and thereby opening up for colonization of the arid alluvial fans along the inner slops of the mountains.
These aflaj form the eastern section in a chain that stretches from northern Oman and provide a traditional technology for conveying water underground from its mother well. The existing oasis in Inner-Oman depends upon this traditional water-collecting system for centuries.
The falaj maintenance was the responsibility of every individual in the society. The preoccupation with distribution of water rights is reinforced by the fact that falaj produced isolated communities. Each of these communities tend to form self-sufficient society whose members cooperate in water matters. The social structure that has grown up in each settlement was based on the need to organize the water supply, and fund both regular and sporadic and urgent falaj maintenance.

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