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The Traditional Aflaj Irrigation System


The aflaj, as mentioned earlier, vary widely in size from those supplying one or two families to those providing water for several thousands of people and several hundreds of gardens. In case of smaller systems, one man may undertake all the management and operations, but for largest a committee may be required. At the largest type of aflaj, a management committee is selected among those who know more about the system, mostly elders. The committee consists of (a) wakil, (b) qabidh, (c) two arif and (d) workforce of bidars.

Administrative Committee Responsibilities

a: The wakil (agent) is the head of the organization of falaj. His responsibilities include;: ownership and falaj rental; arrangement of distribution of water according to such rights; maintenance and sale of falaj property; making the decisions related to any repairs (Sutton, 1984). Ordinarily, the wakeel carries out his duties without consulting the shareholder, but if the matter require special expenditure, he arranges for a meeting and discussion with the leading owners.
b: The qabidh is the treasurer receiving money for falaj funds and spending them. The money that come from falaj properties or rental is kept with qabidh and he spends them for maintenance and repairs of the falaj. In smaller falaj systems, the wakil fulfills both positions. The qabidh is also the "falaj book holder" which organizes shares of water and sale auctions along with dalal who is employed by the qabidh to help him with falaj sale.
c: The arif (foreman) who is in charge of the physical structure and knows its weakness, assessing the method and timing of repairs and maintenance. One of the arif duties is water distribution. He arranges the time of dawran (cycle) schedules among farmers or water shareholders.
d: The bidars (laborers) are the workforce of the falaj. Their duties as described by Al-Marshudy are; irrigation of gardens, moving dams and cleaning the channel. Bidars are not employee by the falaj and they get their wage on daily basis from the land lords. Other officials' salary comes from the falaj rentals and sales, in addition to the income of the falaj properties.


generally, water rents provides most of the falaj income. Other falaj properties contribute to its budget which include palms along the falaj channel, and gardens owned by falaj. The prices of falaj water varies depending on water abundance and type of agriculture in certain location. Rental of water is by auction at six-month intervals. Competition among farmers for water determine its price for that period Falaj maintenance is done by workers supervised by arif and it involves cleaning the tunnel by removing roots and repairing minor collapses of rooting stones or walls.


The system is an integral part of village life. It provide water for crop lands beside domestic use. Since the community depends on the falaj in all aspects of its social life, it acknowledges its dependence upon the falaj and it is common for a land owner to bequeath date palms and water rights back to the falaj institution to augment its income and ensure its continued survival. local people have their own structure of decision-making in farming that are actively planning and executing their own responses. Birks mentioned that rural communities live under a chronic threat of drought, and have developed a series of responses to shortage of rainfall. When the falaj community encounter lack of rain period, it respond to save the amount of water brought be the falaj. Such responses include; the falaj is directed in one falaj rather than two; the cycle of irrigation for each garden; reluctance to plow, or to disturb the soil under the palms at all, because this causes individual plots to absorb more water; and appointing labor for cleaning and facilitate water flow. According to Birks the modern responses to drought is characterized by reduced labor inputs The government launched many projects to help water reservoir and for maintenance of aflaj systems by: repair of aflaj to increase their water conveyance; development and upgrading of the collection section of the aflaj to increase water resources; construction of aflaj support wells; and proper utilization of falaj water by introducing modern irrigation systems.
The falaj will remain the main irrigation water source despite the fluctuation in rainfall. It provides most of the northern Oman small and large farms with water along with other villages domestic needs. Several challenges have threatened the existence of this inherited system such as labor immigration; less attitude of people toward the falaj which is associated with modern water tankers and bottled drinking and cooking water; easier to manage modern electric water pumps and irrigation systems; and reduction and salinity of falaj water due to the ecological deterioration of its surroundings. Such problems has to be investigated in order to maintain this vital water source.

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