The Social Importance and Continuity of Falaj Use in Northern Oman
Al Sulaimani, Zaher bin Khalid
Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter
The Iranian National Committee on Irrigation and Drainage (IRNCID)
Oman has an arid climate with an annual average rainfall less than 100 mm. Agriculture production in Oman is almost fully dependent on irrigation in which more than one third of irrigation water is supplied by aflāj. Prior to the 1970s, falaj (singular of aflāj) systems were the backbone of agriculture in the northern parts of Oman. There are three types of falaj in Oman: ghailī, da'ūdī and cainī. Among these three types, only the da'ūdī falaj is similar to the qanat irrigation systems of Iran. Aflāj are conduits dug in the ground to convey water by gravity from one place to another; there are more than 4,000 aflāj in the Sultanate of Oman, of which 3,017 are active. Many aflāj in Oman were built over 1,500 years ago and some of them may date back over 2,500 years. There was a major period of construction during the Yacāriba Dynasty, by Imam Sultan bin Saif Al Yarubi between 1,060 and 1,070 Hijri (1,650- 1,660 AD). However, several aflāj were constructed only 150 years ago. The falaj systems are still focal to agricultural communities in Oman as they represent 36% of the total water consumed in the agricultural sector and 38% of the total available fresh water. Because of their historical and cultural importance, five representative falaj systems, together with associated structures such as defensive towers, mosques sundials and buildings for water auctions, have recently been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sustainability was the way of life of our ancestors: because falaj systems use gravity flow, water use never exceeded water supply. The Sultanate's traditional methods of water management provide important lessons for the future. Using water fairly in times of plenty and times of scarcity is one of these lessons. Matching water use to water availability, a fundamental characteristic of the falaj system, is an essential element in planning water management in Oman's climatic conditions.
The Iranian National Committee on Irrigation and Drainage (IRNCID); The International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID); The International Network on Participatory Irrigation Management (INPIM)
International History Seminar on Irrigation and Drainage, Tehran-Iran May 2-5, 2007