Rabat – The tragedy of Essaouira on 19 November left at least 15 women dead and five injured, in a food aid stampede in the weekly market of Sidi Boulaalam, south of Morocco. Moroccan human rights activists and analysts unanimously think that Morocco needs a new development approach. This disaster highlights the suffering of people from the current drought in Morocco and from the rise in the prices of basic foodstuffs, at a time of skyrocketing unemployment, and of an unprecedented stagnation of wages and incomes.
What has happened is the result of the permanent deepening of social inequalities due to the prevailing liberal economic order and full involvement in unbridled globalization from a vulnerable position, poor governance, and an unfair distribution of wealth.
As the 2015 Nobel Prize-winner, economist Angus Dayton has pointed out, globalization and technological innovation create new job opportunities for millions of people, but they subject a large number to unemployment and economic predicament, and the result is widening the gap between the poor and the rich.
The crisis is exacerbated by the fact that income inequality causes unequal opportunities. With limited educational and economic opportunities, talented young people from disadvantaged classes cannot make any progress. The growing class inequalities are increasingly undermining social cohesion and political instability.
Being poor is a highly shameful experience, degrading one’s dignity and sense of self-worth. While the manifestations and causes of poverty differ, the humiliation that accompanies it is universal. Recent research at Oxford University found that poor people – women, men and children – experience identical assaults on their pride and self-esteem.
All these economic and social reasons have led to the marginalization of social strata that suffer from poverty and vulnerability. As a result, Morocco has fallen back on the human development ladder. According to recent official statistics by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning, 700.000 Moroccan families are on the verge of utter poverty, especially in the rural areas. This is happening in spite of the fact that Morocco has made significant progress in the fight against poverty over the past decade, with the contribution of both governmental and non-governmental organizations. The High Commission for Planning mentions that the poverty rate recorded a decline in the country, from 15.3% in 2001 to 14.2% in 2004, then dropped to 8.9% in 2007 and then to 4.8% in 2016.
It is worth underscoring the efforts exerted by the State to combat illiteracy, poverty and vulnerability through the National Initiative for Human Development program launched in 2005 and the national campaigns for literacy and rural development, as well as the efforts of civil society associations to eradicate this scourge.
Despite Morocco’s efforts to reduce poverty, its experience has its own limitations given the widening gap between the poor and the rich. For this reason, more appropriate public policies
should be developed for income redistribution and better targeting the poor and the most vulnerable segments of Moroccan society.
Ignorance is also one of the root causes of poverty. According to the results of the 2004 general population census, the percentage of illiteracy among Moroccans aged 10 years old and over was about 43 per cent. While the rate of illiterate people reached 10 million, one-third of whom were women, which is equivalent to 65 per cent of women, mostly in rural and remote areas.
According to the 2014 census, the illiteracy rate was 32% among the Moroccan population, which is a significant decrease. However, according to the High Commission for Planning, the illiteracy rate reached 41.9% cent for females in 2014 and 22.4 per cent for the male population.
Despite the Government’s adoption of an effective national literacy strategy, the results were not as expected in this regard, as the targets of reducing the overall illiteracy rate to less than 20 per cent by 2012 and the near-total elimination of illiteracy by 2015 have not been reached. The first victims of school drop outs in Morocco are girls (58.4%) and children of the rural zones (80%). More than 40% of the children who quit school are now doing different difficult manual jobs.
The disaster of the Essaouira region requires all officials to review their policies and take the right political, economic and social measures to preserve the dignity of their fellow citizens, securing their basic rights and providing social protection for all, especially the poorest.
An integrated national strategy should be developed to integrate women in economic, social,cultural and political development, providing income-generating projects for families in dire social situations, conducting awareness campaigns at the national level, protecting and saving children and insuring their rights to education, training and health care, strengthening civil society activity to combat poverty, and encouraging field research on this issue, reforming the family code to achieve equality between women and men in inheritance, and fighting against all forms of violence against women in accordance with international agreements.
In order to avoid a murky future, we need an equitable development policy that provides opportunities for young people, whatever their social status is, to ensure their rise in the social ladder. The government must take pro-growth additional actions and develop policies to ensure wealth and gain sharing and more equity and sustainability.
The best way to promote equity and growth is through the effective rehabilitation of human capital. This requires the strengthening of social solidarity and redistribution of wealth, as well as the provision of quality education for all. The good news is that many East Asian economies are increasingly investing in public education to expand opportunities for all population groups, while promoting the participation of girls and women in education and economic development.
Finally, the government has to create an environment that encourages large-scale economic projects, emerging innovative companies and start-ups, with pro-growth policies that i) promote job creation, ii) reduce unemployment, and iii) eliminate barriers to trade and innovation.
As the Moroccan poet Mohammed bin Ibrahim Elmarakchi said:
It is a shame that our people die of starvation, while we have the money to save them.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity.
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