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.”