Al Aflaj, traditional irrigation network system in the UAE, oral traditions, knowledge and skills of construction, maintenance and equitable water distribution
Inscribed in 2020 (15.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
Al Aflaj and the related oral traditions, knowledge and skills of construction, maintenance and equitable water distribution are a source of pride for the associated communities. Al Aflaj is a traditional irrigation system which uses an underground tunnel to conduct water over long distances from an underground source to a basin, where the community can access it. The water flows by gradual gradient from highlands to flatlands, while the underground tunnels reduce evaporation. Al Aflaj also includes a network of surface channels, which distributes water to local farms. The Al Aflaj system is based on inherited knowledge and practices related to nature and the universe. It also relies on traditional skills in finding water sources based on types of vegetation and other indications, as well as drilling skills for maintaining the irrigation system and ensuring the equitable distribution of water. Community members contribute to maintaining Al Aflaj and clearing the tunnels of mud; this knowledge and experience has been passed down for 3,000 years. Related knowledge is transmitted through instruction and shared experience as well as by other means such as field trips for school students. Throughout the centuries, the Al Aflaj have served to provide drinkable water for humans and animals and to irrigate farms in an arid environment, demonstrating the community’s creativity in the face of water scarcity and the desert environment.