By Guillaume Klein
SALE, Morocco – Sahb al-Kaid is a ramshackle slum that lies across the river from Rabat in the capital’s twin city of Sale where residents are losing faith in official promises of a better place to live. Some 10,000 people live in the slum, one of many in Morocco, amid a sea of tarpaulin, sheet metal, rusting satellite dishes criss-crossed by muddy paths full of puddles.
Just last week, an international conference in Rabat last week addressed ways of doing away with the world’s slums, in which around a billion people are condemned to live, according to UN Habitat.
And officials from the UN agency for human settlement, which helped organize the conference, praised Morocco as one of the “highest achievers” in the developing world, in pursuing its “cities without slums” program.
On the last day of the meeting, participants pledged to try to halve the number of slum dwellers by 2020, and a delegation visited Sale, which one Moroccan official described as a pioneer in confronting the social scourge.
But for the residents of Sahb al-Kaid, there are few reasons to believe the government’s plans and promises. “This conference, it’s just words,” said Azizi Addahbi, who was born in the impoverished town 33 years ago.
Since the 1980s, “we have accepted everything that has been proposed. But nothing has been done, so we don’t trust them any more. We no longer believe them,” said the young man, who acts as representative for the inhabitants. Addahbi says that around 1,000 families managed to leave the shanty town in the past few years, but another 1,300 who were due to be relocated in 2007 are still waiting for new accommodation.
“We are now in 2012, and nothing has been done,” he complained. Last year, residents protested over the government’s inaction. In March, security forces intervened to stop “the occupation of public roads,” sparking clashes in which several policeman were wounded and eight people arrested.
An explosive problem
The winter sun comes out over Sahb al-Kaid, after days stormy weather, when plastics sheets served as almost the only protection from the driving rain. Around town, several supply points give access to drinking water, while pirated electricity enables people them to power their homes. Piles of rubble reveal where destroyed dwellings once stood, “part of the rehousing program,” said Addahbi.
Hassan, in his forties, opens the door to his house, which he shares with his mother, his brothers and his sisters. It has just three small rooms, mattresses lying on the floor, a piece of plastic loosely covering the bedroom window.
The fish vendor says he is the only one supporting his family, paying the landlord a rent of three dirhams per week ($0.35/0.27 euros).
Nearby, Aisha Bakkar, a mother of four, and her neighbour Bushra, a year-old baby on her back, complain of the cold and the wet.
Summer is just as bad, says Bushra, a point others agree on. “In winter it’s always soaking wet. In the summer, the sun beats down on the roofs and we melt,” Addahbi said.
The problem of shanty towns came sharply into focus in Morocco after 2003 suicide attacks in Casablanca, the economic capital, that killed 45 people. The 12 suicide bombers were originally from Sidi Moumen, a slum on the outskirts of the city, where the French term “bidonville” was coined, to describe the makeshift towns built by and for the workers during the colonial period.
Despite Morocco’s vaunted progress since that time, nearly one in six citizens is without “decent” accommodation, Housing Minister Mohamed Nabil Benabdallah admitted at the conference.