Perspectives 9 - Tiznit Flooded! Governance and Climate Change Issues

Perspectives 9 - Tiznit Flooded! Governance and Climate Change Issues

In November 2014, Morocco was hit by severe floods which devastated part of the south of the country. Several thousand houses, the majority of which were built of mud, collapsed leaving residents homeless in the icy winter cold. Whole villages found themselves cut off for several weeks. Although initially powerless to do anything, all eyes in Morocco were turned toward the villagers, lost in the midst of the ruins, and their cries for help. Powerlessness subsequently gave way to mobilisation, particularly through the social networks where a collection of donations was organised by the "twittoma” ie the Twitter users' community in Morocco, which succeeded in collecting more than 700,000 dirhams.[1] There were also ‘solidarity caravans’, appeals for donations, many videos shared on the social networks, and a national mourning campaign on facebook.…. The‘citizens' alert’ had indeed been sounded! However, this only highlighted the inability of the Moroccan public authorities to manage the humanitarian crisis brought about by a climate crisis.

 

Climate and territory 

The floods in November 2014 exposed the weaknesses in the systems of territorial governance and crisis management in Morocco. They should be treated as an initial warning which we must heed if we are to forestall the risks related to climatic change in the future.[2] For it is certain that climate change will create new challenges for Morocco, along with other countries of the Global South: higher temperatures, changes in rainfall, depletion of resources, and an increase in extreme events. Climate change has a wide range of socioeconomic repercussions which render territories with precarious infrastructures particularly vulnerable. This vulnerability is all the more marked in Morocco, because like many countries of the Global South it has relatively recently embarked upon a rapid programme of urbanisation often pursued to the detriment of a sound development policy.[3] Towns and cities have been built hastily, often at the whim of property developers, and have been filled by an often unassimilated rural exodus, all in a race towards a seemingly endless ‘modernisation’.

 Faced with such unsound territorial development, any extreme environmental event is likely to call for a response which is beyond the capabilities of the local populations and even the management capacities of the municipalities. However, as the Moroccan meteorologist Fatima Driouech asserts, the primary consequence of climate disruption is an increase in extreme events,[4] and climate science is categorical on the matter: more extreme events are going to happen! Morocco must be prepared for more droughts and more floods.

Faced with the complexity of the challenges created by climate change, there is need for a public policy response based on integrated governance. A paradigm shift in perception of the territory is essential if we are to create resilient territories, equipped to prevent and manage the risks related to climatic change. In this context, this article outlines the main conclusions emerging from the study ‘Agglomération de Tiznit: les défis de la gouvernance urbaine face au risque climatique’ [Agglomeration of Tiznit: challenges of urban governance in the face of climatic change] [5] conducted by the team Des Toits pour le Sud [Roofs for the South], a citizens' initiative created in December 2014 with the aim of identifying the urban management shortcomings causing the floods.

The Toits pour le Sud team were initially inspired by the need to determine the origin of the damage caused by the floods and by a wish to shed a multidisciplinary light on the urban question in order to be able to suggest innovative alternatives. For these reasons the Toits pour le Sud team, formed of engineers, architects and a sociologist, were committed to turning the survey work into a collaborative effort involving students from various institutions. With a desire to promote participation, the Toits pour le Sud team favoured a local approach which would allow a more detailed and integrated understanding of the various overlapping issues of territorial governance.

 

 

Tiznit and Agloo: thinking on a territorial scale

The town of Tiznit and its seaside resort Agloo, located around fifteen kilometres away, were selected as the survey site because of the interconnectedness of the issues involved at these two sites: heritage, a high rate of renewal of the urban fabric, and urbanisation of rural housing.

Comparison of these two sites, urban and semi-rural, fulfils the desire to embed analysis of a given area in its wider environment. Indeed, placing the findings on a territorial scale allows for the contextualisation of data obtained from local surveys within those conducted as part of larger and more systemic analyses. This method makes it possible to take into account notions of justice and spatial equity in order to conceive better regional equalisation. For although all of the south of Morocco was also affected by the torrential rains in November 2014, it became clear that the disparity in resources and management abilities among municipalities left some territories powerless while others were more able to mitigate the worst effects. Consequently, the floods of November 2014 contributed to deepening the spatial inequity between neighbouring territories, as is the case every time a crisis occurs.

 Several levels of disparity may be observed on the scale of the Tiznit agglomeration. In the town of Tiznit, the most vulnerable districts were the first to be affected by the floods. Despite the fact that the floods were severe and their effects widespread, partly destroying the town's infrastructures (bridges, roads, the sewage network), only those living in the ancient medina, one of the most impoverished areas of the town, experienced major damage to their homes. The municipality recorded the destruction of around 850 homes by the floods along with 6500 persons in distress. During the floods, the municipality of Tiznit issued a warning and constructed improvised sandbag dams to hold back the water. Civil society and residents were mobilised, but the scarce means available to the municipality made it impossible to avoid a catastrophe. The ancient medina was encircled by the waters, a part of the historic wall, although recently restored, collapsed and a number of streets experienced rising floodwaters reaching up to 1m 20. The stricken inhabitants were housed in public institutions, disused or requisitioned for the occasion. Ad hoc bearing of costs by the municipality was granted, but sustainable rehousing solutions have been slow to arrive.

Moreover, although the municipality of Tiznit, the provincial capital, may consider itself to have successfully managed the crisis for its own population, it was unable however to provide help to the residents of the village of Agloo, situated only around ten kilometres away. The North of the village was among the areas most severely affected by the floods; around a hundred houses, alongside the bed of the Oued, were swept away by the waters, leaving the families homeless. The Sidi Ouagag zaouia, which is among the oldest zaouias in Morocco, also suffered major material damage, not only to its foundations, which were severely undermined by the waters, but above all to its archives, which were flooded, carrying away many historical works. The floods also resulted in complete destruction of the university campus adjoining the zaouia, which also served as a place of spiritual learning.

Left to fend for themselves, the residents of Agloo were required to improvise as crisis managers: inventing management systems, adopting safety measures and organising collection and distribution of the donations to the affected families. Although the civil society of Agloo was able to take over from the authorities with courage and inventiveness, it is no replacement for state action. Today, more than a year after the floods, the North of the village of Agloo has still not been rebuilt. No safety measures have been adopted, and the houses risk collapsing along the village roads. The inhabitants themselves have reconnected the electricity supply. The afflicted families still do not have any housing. The north of the village is more reminiscent of a battlefield than of a place to live.

The Agloo site received several visits from ministerial delegations, and is often held up as an example of a catastrophe. However the rehousing plan put forward by civil society in Agloo on the basis of a diagnosis of the damage has been in vain. The plan involved requisitioning communal land in order to build an area of community accommodation that could be progressively enlarged.

Left abandoned, with no point of engagement in the municipality, Tiznit has not allowed the civil society of Agloo the opportunity to put into effect its recommendations. Reflection at the territorial level would have made it possible to assist this deprived municipality through a system of equalisation and exchanges of expertise.

Hence, the example of Agloo illustrates the absurdity of a narrow conception of the territory and points a finger at the shortcomings of the decentralisation process implemented by the State. A decentralisation that passes responsibility to the level of the municipalities without providing them with the means to conduct the necessary work. Deprived of human means and material resources, how can small municipalities not only forestall the risks associated with climatic change but also cope in the case of a crisis?

 

 

 

 

Governance without government

            In the landscape of Moroccan towns, Tiznit is known for its participatory dynamism. Furthermore the municipality is often held up as an example in terms of sustainable development. During the floods of November 2014 however, the town was not spared damage. Mr Abdellatif Ouemou, the Chairman of the municipality of Tiznit at that time, admits that this was a risk management problem. For Ouemou, the matter is clear: the municipalities do not have the means of managing alone in the event of natural catastrophes.

Coordination on a territorial level with the State decentralised bodies is often difficult. In spite of the endeavours towards decentralisation embarked on in Morocco since the 90s and updated by the 2011 constitution, the urban restructuring projects have been slow to be implemented. The multiplication of stakeholders, fragmentation of responsibilities, overlapping of competences and lack of communication among institutions impede decision-making processes. This is demonstrated by the plan to protect Tiznit against floods passed in 2010 and yet still to be given concrete form in 2015. Although the plan was primarily intended to bring the town's sewage network up to standard, implementation of this project would also have made it possible to avoid the flooding of November 2014.

There has been both a lack of coordination for risk prevention, and also for crisis management. One aspect to be particularly deplored is that there is no warning mechanism for the population in the event of a natural catastrophe. In Morocco, once the alert is issued by the Meteorological Department, a special bulletin is dispatched to the Ministry of the Interior, which is subsequently entrusted with relaying information to the municipalities involved so that they can take the necessary measures. Now, since the municipalities do not have uniform crisis management abilities, the deprived municipalities are left to fend for themselves, without their being provided with any communication tools. This was particularly the case in Agloo, where residents talk of having been taken by surprise. Nowadays however, owing to the new technologies such as mobile telephones, it would be simple to set up direct early warnings systems that would alert the populations via the telecommunications operators.

Yet the half-hearted decentralisation process is being conducted without a clear political vision, as the State fails to conceive the mechanisms for empowerment of the communities and populations. Rather, it discharges itself of responsibility, while retaining the reflexes and prerogatives of a centralised system. The creation of an imbroglio of rules and procedures has complicated the appointment of officials. The decision-making mechanisms resemble spider webs, woven so as to be inextricable. One should mention as ultimate proof the uncontrolled urban development that is increasing in each town without any adequate and suitable solution being adopted by the State. In Agloo, the houses that collapsed were built with the authorisation of the municipality - conferred by the regional urban development agency - in a flood-prone area where building is normally prohibited.[6] Likewise, in Tiznit, the majority of the houses of the ancient medina were put up with no regard for building rules, to the applause of the corrupt local authorities.[7]

 So what can be said? That the poor are responsible for their own deaths because they have no other means than to accept living in bad conditions? ‘Serves them right’, some say; the poor need to be aware of the risks they incur. Fine! But what is the State doing?

Conceiving territory at a State level cannot be reduced to equating autonomy with resourcefulness on the part of the local populations. We need to confront the public authorities with their failure to effectively manage populations and territories. The state must continue to think, and take responsibility at a terretorial level, if it cannot do this, what does it have left? This is a question that we will someday need to have the courage to put on the table, if we are to do justice to the fine principle of ‘governance’ with which public declarations are adorned each time they mention spatial planning. ‘Good governance’, why not? Who is governing though?

 

[1] Campaign launched on twitter under the hashtag #100dhpouraider which succeeded in raising 302688 dirhams in direct donations on the part of surfers; company donations account for the remainder. The sum was transferred in full to the Food bank. Source: http://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/2014/12/09/inondation-campagne-dirha_n_6294146.html

[2] Hulme M. & Barrow E.M. (1999). Impacts of human-included climate change and natural variability. Nature. 397, pp. 688-69.

[3] According to the figures provided by the High Commission for Planning, the urbanisation rate in Morocco amounts to 60.5% in 2016, whereas it was only 29.2 % in 1960.

[4] Driouech F. (2010). Distribution des précipitations hivernales sur le Maroc dans le cadre d’un changement climatique: descente d’échelles et incertitudes [Distribution of winter precipitations over Morocco within the context of climatic change: downscaling and uncertainties]. PhD. Toulouse.

[5] Report available online at the website of the foundation Heinrich Böll Stiftung Rabat. http://ma.boell.org/fr/2016/06/14/des-toits-pour-le-sud

[6] Information taken from the field survey conducted in July – August 2015. Refer to the report ‘Agglomération de Tiznit: les défis de la gouvernance urbaine face au risque climatique’  [Agglomeration of Tiznit: challenges of urban governance in the face of the climatic risk] posted on the website of the foundation Heinrich Böll Stiftung Rabat. 

[7] As Lahcen Boumehdi, the chairman of the commission responsible for planning the budget and the economic affairs of the town of Tiznit affirms: ‘The problems of informal housing involve several levels of responsibility. First of all, there is the responsibility of certain elected representatives who, for the sake of electioneering interests, encourage this phenomenon. These practices can only be curtailed in stages. We in Tiznit have managed to halt illegal building operations on the outskirts, but they still continue in the ancient medina. Why? For two reasons: firstly, there is no continuous control and secondly, there is failure on the part of the local authorities when it comes to monitoring the implementation plans’. Excerpt from the interviews of the survey conducted in Tiznit in July 2015.

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