As the floods wash away the shiny veneer of Public Relations, the people demand better crisis management and accountability from the government
The start of 2021 was marked by heavy rainfall across Morocco, Casablanca was one of the worst affected regions, with floods causing significant infrastructural damage to the city.
Heavy rains started pounding the area at the beginning of the week. By Tuesday night it culminated in what could only be described as nightmarish floods in Casablanca. Public transport shut down and entire neighborhoods were flooded. A quick-witted Twitter user commented that the city is “slowly marking its transition to becoming the new Venice.”
Casablanca, a home to over 3 million people has been ravaged by floods for over three days now, yet there are still no concrete reports on the scope of infrastructural damage to the city.
The people of Casablanca are in shock, sharing pictures of the apocalyptical weather and floods on social media. Horror stories of destroyed infrastructure, monstrous traffic, and closed schools and businesses are flooding Twitter and other social media.
One driver interviewed by Le360 explained that “there are traffic jams all over the city because of the floods. I came from the highway and I thought that at Zerktouni it would circulate better, but the tunnel is closed so it’s the same thing. I’ve been in my car for five hours.”
With Casablanca position as the financial center of Morocco, the city has received significant investment in local job creation, taking on loans to extend the public transport system, investing h billions of Dirham into highway construction. After all this investment, should the city really see such suffering due to rainfall?
According to Le360, Said Ahmidouch, the Wali (the governor) of Casablanca – Settat region, did not show up to his office on Thursday. The wali’s absence provided a symbol of the lack of any kind of comprehensive governmental response in terms of civil protection services or the failure to rapidly establish vital crisis units.
The situation caused frustration among citizens across the country, with people questioning the absence of responses and actions to answer demands from people affected by the floods.
While citizens have been pining for a clear response and concrete action from the government, some local authorities have instead started casting blame for the crisis.
Damage in the city
Due to the floods, the government has closed several roads since Thursday morning, culminating in traffic jams and preventing access to the metropolis.
In the absence of strong action, reports of nightmarish consequences have materialized. On Thursday night one person died and four others were injured when the roof of a traditional bakery collapsed due to the heavy rainfall. This was in Rue de Safi, in the old Medina of Casablanca.
Local press and concerned citizens reported additional damage to tunnels, basement car garages, and public transport. All French schools across the Casablanca – Settat region have closed doors since Thursday. Water drainage systems are clogging and overflowing, preventing the removal of excess rain water.
Moroccan television channel 2M invited the Casablanca mayor to its afternoon news session to clarify what government response the affected citizens of Casablanca can expect. His statement however was not convincing enough for neither the local citizens nor for Sanae Rahimi, who hosted him.
Abdelaziz Al Ammari, one of the top officials in the region did not take responsibility for the crisis, but instead pointed his fingers at Lydec, Casablanca’s water provider. He said that the company should take preventive measures in line with the weather forecasts, which warned of heavy rainfalls.
Al Ammari also called on citizens to send their complaints to the company or to turn to insurance companies.
Poor communication not unprecedented
Crises such as these warrant intense collaboration from authorities, in order to show solidarity and support for the citizens who lost their properties due to floods. Instead, it appears the government is prioritizing defensive statements and holding individual institutions responsible for the crises.
Ideally the authorities should join the public, roll up their sleeves and provide support. Such situations require vigilance and quick response, and most importantly, clear communication. Clear communication can express support to those affected and inform the public to prevent further chaos, injury and unnecessary damage.
However, the lack of quick response and communication comes as neither a shock nor a surprise to most citizens. Local authorities and the government have repeatedly caused frustration among citizens due to lack of communication during crises.
October 16, 2018, Morocco experienced a tragedy following a major train accident between Kenitra and Rabat. A train derailed, killing at least seven and wounding 90 others.
Despite the pain and suffering, the government obfuscated and delayed its communication, hampering a much-needed response to help people in a critical situation.
In the first 30 minutes, photos and videos showed passengers and bystanders trying to help each other in the absence of auxiliary forces and ambulances. The incident took place around 10:30 a.m. in the morning, but officials did not arrive until 1:30 p.m. to the site. Citizens were similarly frustrated with the lack of concise communication to explain the cause of the accident.
During the incident, Morocco World News had been trying to contact government officials at the time.
Amid frustration and confusion, former government spokesperson Mustapha Khalfi shared a tweet at 12:18 p.m. Pining for crucial information, citizens found that the statement was instead on the signing of an agreement between representatives of associations participating in a national debate on civil society and drugs.
It took officials three hours to comment on the accident, sending condolences to the families of the victims.
But was that enough? Of course not, amid the frustration and sadness with families mourning the loss of their loved ones. Sometimes all the government needs to do is admit a problem and communicate clearly how it aims to resolve the issue
The government should learn to improve its means of communication, and not get too selective during such incidents. Sometimes local authorities rush to prioritize statements to international media while ignoring Morocco’s press and citizens and can communicate situations faster.
With reforms ongoing to improve administrations, it remains to be seen whether communication reforms would see the light of the day in the coming decades.