Morocco Continues Local and African Leadership on the Environment – Jean R. AbiNader

Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
March 23, 2017

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

While some may question the durability of commitments made at COP22 and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, there is no doubt that Morocco takes these responsibilities seriously. Recent news coverage on two development projects indicate that Morocco is all about the business of building a better future for itself and for Africa.

Two articles reported the latest developments in Zenata Eco-City, located between Casablanca and Rabat. When announced in 2012, Zenata was to be the pilot for a number of new cities planned by Morocco to relieve the urban overcrowding that is continuing at an accelerating pace. By 2030, urban populations in Africa are expected to increase by 15% and it’s worse in densely populated cities like Casablanca, where overcrowding leads to poor health and environmental outcomes, not to mention pockets of poverty and inadequate social services.

Aside from its famous IKEA, which opened in March 2016, Zenata boasts several locally designed and developed urban spaces featuring open land, apartment buildings with recreational areas for young people, a community mosque, as well as shops and transportation. The city, planned for 300,000 inhabitants, is growing based on a master plan that focuses on public utilities, air quality, ease of movement, and jobs. According to a story by Devex (“the media platform for the global community”), they key for the government is that planning be done with heavy local input and stress three development pillars: environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

Additional information, provided by Dr. Zakia Belhachmi, a senior international development advisor, pointed out that “Prior to its recent development as an eco-city, it was home to nearly 40,000 people living in slums whose inhabitants were relocated to temporary housing in apartments nearby as part of the region’s urban master plan. Zenata not only maximizes the use of natural resources of the city, but is also allocating 30% of the first phase as a ‘green space’ and a central park conceived to promote biodiversity.”

Dr. Belhachmi raises critical questions about whether the education system in these new cities will incorporate the concept of sustainability in its curricula and about the role of parent-teacher associations. “After all, new modes of living involving a transition from slums into an eco-city are educational at their core simply because of the sustainable principles involved. Development in this context includes a socialization process that addresses the mind-set of the people not just their physical habitat.”

Congo Receives Attention

Further afield, a direct outcome of COP22 was the recent signing in Congo of a “Congo Basin Blue Fund.” The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) says that the “Blue economy concerns all water bodies, including lakes, watercourses and groundwater, not forgetting seas and coasts. The main economic activity domains of Africa based on marine and aquatic resources include fishing, fish farming, tourism, transport, the port sector, mining and energy.”

The Congo Basin Blue Fund was one of the three priorities raised by King Mohammed VI at the Africa Action Summit held during COP22. One of the major concerns is the deforestation in the Congo Basin forests, which are second only to the Amazon Basin as a natural carbon storage system. This is a joint project of the Brazzaville Foundation and nine countries, including Morocco, which participated in the signing of an MOU this month to formally launch the fund.

According to several sources, “The fund will finance projects in river transport, dredging and infrastructure, renewable energy, irrigation, fishing and ecotourism to foster sustainable industries based on the Congo’s renewable resources.” Given Morocco’s commitment to advancing its own water management as well as its outreach to share with African countries valuable expertise on renewable energy, agriculture, and fisheries, it is not surprising that it has joined this group.

Next steps include tapping climate change financing facilities such as the one raised by the World Bank and Morocco, and attracting funding from other international agencies, investors, and philanthropic organizations.

Cécilia Attias, member of the Brazzaville Foundation, commented that the fund “marks a huge step forward in delivering economic and environmental sustainability to the Congo Basin and surrounding communities. We are delighted by the support of these nine nations who have united in peaceful cooperation on this vital mission.”

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