There are plenty of water channels streaming through various farming villages in Al Ain and Oman. These water channels are known as ‘Aflaj’ and are a part of the hugely popular Falaj Irrigation System or the Aflaj irrigation network. There are three types of Aflaj systems that are available in different terrains in the region. Let’s dig deeper and find out more about them.
- What is the Aflaj Irrigation System?
- How does the Aflaj system work?
- Components of Aflaj Systems
- Types of Aflaj Irrigation System
- Popular Aflaj in Oman
- Aflaj in Al Ain
What is the Aflaj Irrigation System?
Aflaj is an Arabic word which means ‘split into parts.’ The system evenly divides water between farms and therefore it is known as Falaj. It refers to an underground channel that ensures the supply of water to the crops.
It is an ancient irrigation system that has been an integral part of Al Dakhliya, Al Batinah and Al Sharqiyah regions in Oman since 500 AD. The famous Al Ain Aflaj system is reported to have existed from around 1000 years BC, making it the oldest in the region.
How does Afalaj system work?
Aflaj is dug deep in the earth, so it extracts water from underground sources such as wadis and wells. Water flows through the system by the force of gravity, without any intervention of machines.
Does water through Aflaj system flow all along?
Water constantly streams in these water systems of the oasis. The flow increases during the rainy season in Oman.
Components of the Aflaj system
There are three major parts of this traditional irrigation network, including:
Umm Al Falaj
Umm Al Falaj refers to ‘the mother well’ in the Arabic language. It is the major source of water in the system.
The tunnel delivers a large amount of subterranean water from Umm Al Falaj to its destination. It varies in length depending on the kind of place where the system runs, the amount of water and the shipping point.
Shafts are built at a 20-metre distance along the tunnel. They also have a ring of burnt clay that removes debris and helps in ventilation. The ring protects the channel from destruction in case the tunnel collapses and also prevents the falaj from flooding.
Types of Falaj Irrigation System
Aflaj Irrigation Systems are mainly divided into three types:
These channels run for up to tens of metres, so they have an ample amount of water all year round.
These Aflaj systems draw water from ponds or natural resources. The amount of water in these falaj systems increase after the rain and decrease significantly during extended dry periods.
The Arabic word ‘Ayni’ refers to well. Ayni Falaj receives water from springs. The quality of water in these channels vary on the basis of their temperature and source.
Popular Aflaj in Oman
There are more than 11,000 falaj systems in Oman. Falaj Daris and Falaj Al Khatmayn are the most popular in Al Dakhliya Governorate while Sharqiyah Governorate has Falaj Al Jaylah in Wilayat Sur, Falaj Ayn Al Kasfah in Wilayt Ar Rustaq and Falaj Al Hamam in Wilayat Bawshar as the most reputable Ainy Aflaj in Oman.
In 2006, UNESCO listed five Omani aflaj in the list of World Heritage Sites. Falaj Al-Mayassar, Falaj Al-Malki, Falaj Al-Jeela, Falaj Al-Khatmeen (Al Khatmayn) Falaj Daris graced the list.
The Aflaj System in Al Ain City
Al Ain had many tribes and many of them had the craftsmanship required to build falaj systems. The first tribe known to have constructed them was Al Awamir.
Besides that, there are many Aflaj systems in the Al Ain oasis, one of the most popular oases in the UAE. The Iron Age Aflaj is in Al Ain’s Hili, Jebeeb, Bida bin Saoud, Thugaiban and Al Madam areas.
In 1946, Sheikh Zayed, as the governor of Al Ain, restored and renovated all the water resources including the falaj system. The restoration of these systems contributed to Al Ain’s agricultural boom.
And that wraps up our guide to Falaj Irrigation System. Besides this place, there are many UNESCO heritage sites reminiscent of the history and culture of the UAE.
The UAE Ministry preserves these sites as well as takes sustainable measures to establish historical as well as an ecological ethos in the country.