By Dana Leger
Rabat – The Cities Without Slums initiative intends to eradicate slums from 85 cities across Morocco in an effort to end unsanitary housing, social exclusion, and to lessen the chance of homegrown violent extremism in Morocco. Far behind schedule, if and when it reaches completion, will it be enough?
Background, intentions, and progress
King Mohammed VI established the Cities Without Slums program in 2004 in the wake of the 2003 Casablanca terrorist attacks, when 12 suicide bombers from the shantytown of Sidi Moumen, a poor suburb of Casablanca, killed 45 people and injured hundreds more.
The program was originally set to be completed in 2011, having received EUR 90 million from the European Commission. The tasks of the program include building sufficient, affordable, and sanitary housing for families to relocate to as the old slums are demolished. Seven years late, it has reached about 68% completion.
Today, 58 of the 85 targeted cities across Morocco are “slum-free” as declared by the Ministry of National Planning, Urban Planning, Housing, and Urban Policy. The most recent city to receive such status is Settat in central Morocco.
Why eradicate slums?
Often, people with low amounts of income struggle to find suitable housing that is close enough to commercial centers that are necessary for daily life. With few options for commuting from farther locations into a city on a daily basis and without the necessary funds to live inside a city, living in a slum becomes the only option.
According to the 2011 Constitution, Moroccan citizens have an essential right to housing, water, a healthy environment, healthcare, and social security. On the other hand, slums often lack a combination of water supply, electricity, sewage, or waste management, and often unreasonable numbers of people are housed together in small spaces.
People living in slums are marginalized, meaning their needs and desires are often not met by their local government or society. Marginalization creates a feeling of otherness and of social exclusion as an entire sub-group of people is ignored by their community and/or seen as lesser.
Higher chances of violent radicalization
Marginalization is often one of the first of many characteristics an individual experiences on the road to violent radicalization. There are a number of factors and paths that may lead to such an end, but in shanty towns and slums, a multitude of factors that are thought to raise the chances of an individual becoming violently radicalized are present. According to research by Dr. Audrey Heffron Casserleigh at Florida State University, some of the factors that create higher chances for an individual to become violently radicalized include lack of education, unemployment, and social exclusion.
That is not to say that every, or even most, individuals within a marginalized group, or those who are radically religious, or those who are affected by each of these factors will become a terrorist actor. It is perfectly possible and most common to hold radical beliefs and/or be a part of communities affected by these circumstances and yet be nothing close to a terrorist. Communities such as these simply have a higher chance than others to become locations for recruitment.
According to Casserleigh, the difference lies in the fact that terrorist actors are intolerant of those who go against their moral absolutes and are motivated by something bigger than the act itself, whether it be a political, religious, or social motivation. In addition, those who commit terrorist acts make a rational decision to do so when they believe that alternate measures have already been taken and failed, and they feel that there is no other way left to make their voice heard.
One strategy to reduce the likelihood of individuals feeling such extreme voicelessness is community engagement for all groups. The Cities Without Slums program exemplifies this strategy as it aims to bring marginalized people into mainstream society through housing solutions.
The question that remains is whether the program will ever be completed, and even if so, what preventive measures will be taken to deter the return of slums to Moroccan cities?
Morocco has been rapidly urbanizing for decades. UN-Habitat predicts that urban Morocco will continue to grow by 290,000 inhabitants every year until 2030. The problem is most likely not going to disappear by simply demolishing slums and relocating families. The program is struggling to keep up with its current number of households in need, and with every year, more are added.
Beyond that, not only is affordable, sanitary, and available housing an issue within itself, but people also settle in shanty towns such as Sidi Moumen because there are not sufficient employment opportunities and education. Morocco has an official unemployment rate of 10.5 percent and a literacy rate of only 68.5 percent. If there were more of a focus on these issues as well in order to attempt to solve the problem at the root, there would be better chances of sustaining “slum-free” cities.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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