5 August 2021 | 4 minutes.

The Qanat system: Ancient technology for sustainable water use

Convergence point of three qanats, Algeria.

Photo: Idda Salem


Peter Easton
Senior Advisor Water and Sustainability

Peter Easton, Senior Advisor Water and Sustainability

Originally developed in ancient Persia, the qanat system of water channels was introduced to Arabia and then across the Mediterranean region by the Arabs, first into North Africa and then to southern Spain via the Umayyad conquests and the associated scientific transmission of knowledge. The Spanish went on to take the concept of transporting groundwater to fields and cities all the way to South America.

A qanat is a constructed system of shafts and tunnels to intersect the water table beneath a hill, and to transport it by gravity to an exit point from where it is carried further along an open channel for human and agricultural uses in an otherwise arid environment.

Qanats are an ingenious system of water supply invented by ancient Persians around 3,000 years ago; known in Farsi as kariz, the qanat system spread to other parts of the world and some are still in use today. Qanats are recognised by UNESCO as an outstanding example of traditional technology used to support the essential water needs of various civilizations.

Qanat pit, Morocco. Photo: Sylvain Lanau

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