When I set about to write a post under Blog Action Day, which this year focuses on climate change, I wanted to do so through a personal experience. Whilst the following, I have to shamefully admit, has only partially something to do with climate change per se, it is an account of my genuine acquaintance with an impending global problem, getting closer to home.
After a ten month absence, I landed on Casablanca airport where the sky was wonderfully blue. I almost forgot how warm and agreeable the sun was at this time of year. It wasn’t exactly the suffocating heat of the Moroccan summer nor was it the feeble warmth of northern Europe’s nascent fall. The Moroccan clement whether wrapped me with a welcoming embrace that plunged me back, almost instantly, to a place I felt perfectly fitting into, as I made my way out of the cabin and into the newly built corridor inside Terminal 2.
As I walked toward the customs my eyes were caught by a series of glistening posters, venting the merits of some gargantuan resort projects set to be built along the cost of the Atlantic. “Mazagan Beach Resort: The immensity of the ocean, endless beaches, sweet-scented gardens and in a life-sized presentation box” said one of the billboards. On a marvelous picture on one of the posters, you could enjoy the immensity of the would-be golf, dotted with aggregates of small houses and swimming pools, in the middle of which emerge impressive hotel buildings. I knew the place. The Hawzi’ya forest, north of the city of El Jadida, the city where I used to live and where I was heading to visit my parents. In the face of it, I thought this was great: new job opportunities, great source of money that would get the local economy rolling again.
I stayed for a while in Quartier Maarif, the commercial district that spreads in the shadows of Casablanca Twin Towers. I like the place and can’t come and visit the city without stopping there. I love the cafés and the human energy that breaks out of the general chaos that appears to inhabit the place. But I couldn’t imagine that the levels of congestion, noise and air pollution would have reached such alarming levels.
A couple of days later, heading south toward El Jadida, I was struck by the speed with which the landscape appears to be changing. Constructions appeared to be mushrooming everywhere. And, a couple of kilometers before entering the long and magnificent El Jadida access avenue, there, an unfamiliar skyline emerged from the distance, right along the Hawzi’ya beach, where I expected to contemplate the expanse of the once thick and green forest.
As I drove close-by, I could see a long, delicately engraved wall, running along the road, encircling what appears to be a construction site, where workers could be seen between the looped edges of the fortress-like wall, frenetically digging, assembling stones, watering gardens and newly planted plants.
Along the wall, large banners attached to high posts read “Kerzner International,” “Mazagan Beach Resort.” The site runs for long distance and stops right in the middle of a wide naked field where once stood an abundant grove.
A couple of miles south, I drove by the Club Med and its guarded entrance, and the Golf which snakes across the southern end of the Hawzi’ya forest, right beside the beach.
I eventually entered El Jadida, where I stayed for a couple of days. It looks like most of the talk in the city was about the new resort project, set to be inaugurated by the king himself on October 15, and about Brad Pitt -I kid you not- allegedly acquiring a home in the site. Most people I talked to, thought the project was a good thing for the city. But some issues kept recurring though. First the effect the water-thirsty resort was having on the city’s water supplies and second, the loss of large parts of a forest that is believed to be at the core of a fragile and complex ecosystem that allows for the gentle and warm local climate to sustain itself. That added to the ever expanding Industrial Zone, notorious for its polluted air, filled with greenhouse gases, emanating from agro industrial factories and spreading in the outskirts of the city. Not to mention the phosphates processing plant in Jorf Lasfar, in the south. Whilst the economic benefits of the resort and all other job creating factories were mostly acknowledged, one could feel the unease with regard to the way such gigantic projects, now spreading across the country, were alloted with little regard for either the local population’s basic needs, nor the ecological impact they might have.
But the haunting question remains for developing countries like ours, on how we can hope for economic progress without damaging the environment or impacting on climate. It appears that the whole country took a pass on sustainability, obsessed as it is by economic growth, at any cost.
Morocco is regularly afflicted by severe phases of drought. Paradoxically last month, the country experienced an unprecedented flooding that has struck the countryside, damaging crops and exposing much of the defective sanitation infrastructure in the main cities. This capricious and no longer predictable climate, to some extent, has brought the question of climate change, an issue that looked remote so far, to the popular level, although not to a level this would represent a major preoccupation, having to compete with more earthily (forget the pun) concerns.
In the meanwhile, the sight of the Hawzi’ya forest being literally uprooted, left an enduring pain in my heart. No longer will I enjoy the reseeding scents of wild flowers, or the shades of an unacquired tree in a wild field, only a couple of miles north of home. Or maybe should I just resign to an inexorable reality?