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Tourists warned as drought-hit country forced to close its baths three days a week

Simon Calder’s Travel

Morroco’s baths have become the latest casualty as the world faces unprecedented threats from climate change and a drought that officials have called disastrous.

For years, Fatima Mhattar has welcomed shopkeepers, students, bankers and retirees to Hammam El Majd, a public bath on the outskirts of Morocco‘s capital, Rabat. For a handful of change, they relax in a haze of steam then are scrubbed down and rinsed off alongside their friends and neighbors.

Cities throughout the North African nation have mandated that hammams close three days a week this year to save water.

A worker at an empty Moroccan traditional bath, known as hammam, in Rabat

(Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The public baths — hammams in Arabic — for centuries have been fixtures of Moroccan life. Inside their domed chambers, men and women, regardless of social class, commune together and unwind. Bathers sit on stone slabs under mosaic tiles, lather with traditional black soap and wash with scalding water from plastic buckets.

Mhattar smiled as she greeted families lugging 10-liter (2.6-gallon) buckets full of towels, sandals and other bath supplies to the hammam where she works as a receptionist on a recent Sunday. But she worried about how restrictions would limit customer volume and cut into her pay.

“Even when it’s open Thursday to Sunday, most of the clients avoid coming because they are afraid it’s full of people,” Mhattar said.

A Moroccan traditional bath, known as hammam, is empty of customers, in Rabat, Morocco,

(Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Little rainfall and hotter temperatures have shrunk Morocco’s largest reservoirs, frightening farmers and municipalities that rely on their water. The country is making painful choices while reckoning with climate change and drought.

The decision to place restrictions on businesses including hammams and car washes has angered some. A chorus of hammam-goers and politicians are suggesting the government is picking winners and losers by choosing not to ration water at more upmarket hotels, pools, spas or in the country’s agricultural sector, which consumes the majority of Morocco’s water.

“This measure does not seem to be of great benefit, especially since the (hammam) sector is not considered one of the sectors that consumes the most water,” Fatima Zahra Bata,…

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