Casa, under water

This past Tuesday, in twenty-four hours Casablanca got half as much rain as it normally does in an entire year. Here’s what happened as a result:

And that’s just around Casablanca.

All classes were cancelled. Even the next day some of my classmates couldn’t make it to Ben M’Sik because a few major roads, and therefore bus routes, weren’t accessible.

I heard, in the press as well as from friends, that some neighborhoods were without power for as long as 76 hours. Rumors circulated that Lydec, the electric company for Casablanca, was going to cut off power in the entire city to deal with repairs. It was a good day for the candle business. As it turns out, Lydec had shut off power in many places because they feared that the flooding in basements and underground garages would cause fires or electrocution.

My own perspective of last week’s floods is very limited. My neighborhood, near the city center, didn’t flood and the roads were pretty clear. That’s not to say that the city center, or wealthy neighborhoods generally, didn’t suffer property damage, total destruction of cars in some underground garages, and some blockage of major downtown roads.

However, a common refrain in the press has been that the worst-affected areas were, predictably, the quartiers populaires and especially the bidonvilles. Why? It’s interesting to note that in press coverage*, it’s taken as a given that working class and poor neighborhoods suffer the most from natural catastrophes. I certainly wouldn’t argue against that point, but a lot of what I’ve read has been melodramatic. Nothing too wrong with that, especially in light of the fact that the floods caused truly serious problems. Except that I’m left wondering what exactly would need to change for this to never happen again.

I’ll offer my own, non-professional explanations for why quartiers populaires are so vulnerable. The old medina of Casablanca is considered a “quartier populaire” and is, well, old. They get flooded every year, which I’m guessing has to do with the age of the sewage system there.

If we’re talking about bidonvilles, we’re talking about stretches of one-story shacks.

And then at least one article talks about a neighborhood in a low-lying area where, naturally, water tends to flow. I seem to recall that Ward 9 in New Orleans, the poster child for “Katrina” and all the baggage now assigned to that name, is located below sea level. I have no idea if all, or most, or even some of Casablanca’s poorest neighborhoods are in low-lying areas.

And then there’s the aftermath. I’m not sure what is reasonable to expect from government or civil society in Morocco, but Maroc Hebdo, TelQuel, and Actuel Maroc all say that the residents worst affected by the floods have received help only from their neighbors and good samaritans. Maroc Hebo talks of an impromptu emergency center where neighbors and a local restaurant owner are feeding 150 people. There’s no mention of who actually set up the center.

There seems to be an agreement, across the city, that the infrastructure of Casablanca couldn’t handle the rainfall. The city council and its president, i.e. the mayor, have deflected suggestions that the problems stem from irresponsible development. They say that given the unprecedented amount of rainfall there’s no way the city could have prepared for this.

In the press coverage I’ve read, there is a lot of skepticism. TelQuel’s article on the floods ends, tellingly, with this remark:

As for city authorities, total silence. Contacted by TelQuel, Mohamed Sajid, the mayor of Casablanca, declined to answer our questions. Du côté des autorités de la ville, c’est silence radio. Contacté par TelQuel, Mohamed Sajid, le maire de la ville, n’a pas souhaité répondre à nos questions.”


Filed under bidonvilles, Casablanca, urban development, Urban Morocco

4 responses to “Casa, under water

  1. Woah! Those pictures are wild. I’m glad to hear you’re alright, and I look forward to updates as the city gets back on its feet, so to speak.
    It’s a pretty well-documented phenomenon that poorer neighbourhoods are more vulnerable to disasters. As you mentioned, part of it is built form; poorer neighbourhoods are often built less resiliently (or have aged poorly), and have worse infrastructure – which the powers that be are also typically less interested in upgrading. But part of it, too, is that the richer you are the more choice you have in where to live. And since not surprisingly, people with choice pick less vulnerable places to live, poor residents have to live in the less desirable parts of town. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if socio-economic classes in Casa mapped to height.

    (If you’re seriously interested in the question of “what would need to be done differently for this to change,” you may be interested in running a few searches on “disaster risk reduction (DRR)”, in conjunction with urban governance or other related keywords. I don’t know much about it, but I can try to send articles your way if you’re interested.)

  2. Hello Kathleen,
    Just read about the flood in Casa and I’m quite happy to say we do have the exact same things in France ! Why happy ? Because it shows that the same deed have the same results, whatever the country. As I won’t find the proper terms in english, I’ll say that l’eau ruisselle sur les routes, les parkings, tous les endroits recouverts de béton ou de macadam. Et elle emporte tout sur son passage. Alors qu’elle serait en grande partie absorbée par la terre, donc les espaces libres que sont les champs et les prairies. Pourtant nous ne cessons de construire de nouvelles routes, nouveaux parkings…
    Quant aux maisons inondées, combien ont été construites dans des zones inondables ? Là où il n’y avait que des champs, là où les anciens, prudents, ne construisaient pas. Là où elles ne devraient pas être. Cela n’a effectivement rien à voir avec la pauvreté. C’est plus une question de bon sens et de bonne gestion du territoire. C’est si joli, une maison au bord de l’eau ! A condition d’accepter qu’aux premières grosses pluies il va falloir se réfugier sur le toit et aller faire les courses en barque !
    Le developpement immodéré des villes et une utilisation immodérée des terres se résument, régulièrement, inexorablement, en flots de boue et d’amertume.

    • Kathleen

      Tu as tout à fait raison de dire qu’il est question de gestion du territoire. Lors des ‘booms’ du marché immobilier, on construit surtout pour vendre des propriétés le plus vite que possible, et s’il n’y a pas de régulation il y a presque aucune raison du point de vue des développeurs pour s’assurer qu’il y aura pas de problèmes au long terme. C’est là qu’on voit des parkings, comme tu dit, mais aussi des villes entières construites au milieu du désert!

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