In the face of important environmental challenges created by rapid population growth, pollution and climate change, Morocco has established itself as a strong advocate for environmental protection and conservation. With growing problems of air and water pollution, inadequate waste management facilities, burgeoning costs for energy imports, and the destruction of the kingdom’s ecosystems, the government has adopted a multitude of initiatives to combat these issues, setting an impressive example for the rest of the region.
ROYAL PLEDGE: Embedded in King Mohammed VI’s Throne Speech in 2009 was a commitment to protect Morocco’s environment. In this speech, King Mohammed VI called for the formation of a charter, later known as the Environmental Charter, which would serve as an essential component to coordinate and enhance conservation efforts, and which laid the foundations for a national environmental policy. With its launch on Earth Day 2010 as the first such document in the Middle East or Africa, the charter underlined the right of every citizen to live in a healthy environment and will guide future sustainability laws. The Environmental Charter also provided the impetus to establish regional observatories responsible for monitoring the environment and local ecosystems, while laying down a framework for tackling issues ranging from water management to eradicating the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags.
COMMITMENTS: In the 1990s Morocco developed structures to protect the environment, notably with the establishment of a sub-secretariat at the Ministry of the Interior. This move was one of many environmentally oriented initiatives made as the country began formulating a national plan of action, participating in the UN’s 1992 Conference on the Environment and Development, also know as the Earth Summit. Morocco ratified the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1995 and then hosted the seventh UNFC-CC Conference of the Parties in 2001. Morocco also ratified Annex 2 of the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, and though the country was not obliged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as a developing country, it created a portfolio of clean development mechanism projects to significantly reduce greenhouse emissions. Although Morocco is not a significant contributor to global CO emissions with less than two toxic equivalent units of CO per inhabitant per year, climate change could pose serious challenges to the country in the coming decades, particularly to national water resources.
RENEWABLE ENERGIES: Under Morocco’s new energy strategy, which was implemented in March 2009, the development of renewable energies has become a major government priority, serving to diversify energy sources, reduce imports and promote a more environmentally friendly production process. Ambitions remain high with plans to produce 42% of electricity needs from renewables by 2020 by establishing two major programmes to develop solar and wind power, with additional contributions from hydroelectric sources.
Launched in November 2009 and June 2010, solar and wind power projects show great potential, with possible production of 6000 MW of wind power by the end of 2013 and 25,000 MW by 2020, while solar energy benefits from high insolation levels (number of hours of sunshine) at 3000 hours per year. The €2.63bn wind power plan aims to construct five wind farms with a total installed capacity of 2000 MW by 2020, which will generate some 66,000 GWh (see Energy chapter).
The €6.75bn solar programme envisages constructing solar production plants at five sites with a total installed capacity of 2000 MW. The development of the wind and solar programmes was facilitated by the creation of two new government agencies to oversee the renewables projects, the National Agency for the Development of Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency and the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy. Additionally, a €750m state-owned investment fund, the Société d’Investissements Energétiques (SIE), was established to support investments in renewable energies. The passage of a renewable energy law in 2010 encouraged the participation of the private sector by liberalising the high- and very-high-voltage electricity grids to those producers that utilise renewable energies and by laying the foundations for renewable energy exports.
URBAN WASTE: Initiated in 2007, the National Waste Management Programme (Programme National des Déchets Ménagers, PNDM) has become a key pillar of Morocco’s environmental strategy. Rapid population growth and rising urbanisation led to the production of around 4.7m tonnes of household waste annually in 2008 with projections of a rise to 6.2m tonnes in 2020. To combat this problem, the state launched the PNDM, a 15-year programme that seeks to spend Dh37bn (€3.3bn) to ensure a 90%-collection rate of domestic waste by 2015 and 100% by 2020, to close and rehabilitate all existing dumps, and to organise and develop the recycling sector to reach a rate of 20% of waste generated by 2015. An additional 350 controlled dumps will be established in urban settings over the next few years, with 12 dumps already set up and another 12 in progress. Specific attention is being paid to the disposal of organic waste, which the government hopes to utilise for energy production through biogas.
“When you look at the typology of waste in Morocco, 80% is organic, so with that, one can utilise technologies such as digesters which generate energy and produce organic fertilisers from organic material. This can cut down on expensive energy imports that can be replaced by reusing organic waste material,” said Ahmed Baroudi, the general manager of SIE. A pilot project to test the potential is in progress with the Agricultural Cooperative of Taroudant, a city located in the Sous Valley in southern Morocco. The government is aiming to implement a national plan regarding the disposal of dangerous waste and will also establish a national treatment centre for harmful materials.
WATER RESOURCES: Climate change has begun to erode water resources and is expected to incur significant reductions in water across the Middle East and North Africa – where the World Bank has estimated that the amount of available water per capita will be halved by 2050, partly due to an expected decrease of 50% in rainfall in the medium term, according to the Ministry for Territorial Development, Water and Environment. “Environmental sustainability is something to be developed in the future, whereby relevant technologies should be further subsidised to make them more attractive, particularly in segments such as water treatment,” said Taoufiq Marzouki, the director general of Moroccan bureau of consulting engineers Novec.
To limit the effects of climate change, the National Office of Potable Water (Office National de l’Eau Potable, ONEP), which manages around 80% of Morocco’s drinking water, has established a number of strategies to promote water conservation efforts. The reduction of losses in potable water networks has been identified as a key priority of the state and ONEP, and through its emphasis on reducing water losses in partnership with Veolia Water, network losses have declined by an amount equivalent to the water consumed by 800,000 Moroccans per year. This has partly been achieved through recycling wastewater (see analysis), recharging aquifers and desalinating seawater. In 2011 Princess Lalla Hasna also announced her support of a programme to extend protection to 127 (up from 57) of Morocco’s beaches. A new law is being prepared to support durable development in the context of sustainable tourism.
AGRICULTURE: Wastewater treatment and desalination are important strategies for maximising the efficient usage of water used by the agricultural sector, which uses between 85-90% of national water consumed, of which 65% is not being utilised efficiently, according to UNESCO. Studies conducted by a farmers’ association in Agadir concluded that in 2000 approximately 600 litres of water were used to produce one litre of orange juice due to inefficient irrigation methods. In view of this, efficient usage of water resources is a central component in the national agricultural strategy, the Green Morocco Plan. This advocates the use of drip irrigation systems, which are slated for expansion from 150,000 ha to 670,000 ha by 2020. Through the deployment of drip irrigation, consumption patterns for Agadir have reportedly been reduced to 320 litres of water per one litre of orange juice.
“This is still a very large amount of water being used, while the region as a whole has an enormous overuse of groundwater, the level of which continues to fall every year, putting the region very much near the limit of its water supply,” said Dieter Uh, senior technical advisor of the Moroccan office of German development organisation, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit. The installation of underground drip systems by 2020 is expected to reduce evaporation and further cut consumption to 180 litres per litre of juice. In October 2012, the European Investment Bank lent the kingdom €42.5m to encourage the development of modern farming practices while promoting efficient management of water resources.
The industrial sector has also become subject to rigid regulations, which forbid industrialists from disposing of contaminated water into the water table. Watershed agencies ensure compliance to these norms and issue fines for those who do not follow them.
In addition to ONEP, there are four private providers of water supplying Rabat, Tangier, Tétouan, Casablanca and 12 local municipal utilities. Within urban environments, ONEP provides water to 96% of the total urban population, covering more than 1.4m customers. Plans exist to develop the sustainability and security of drinking water through an investment of Dh13.4bn (€1.2bn) between 2011 and 2015 by raising the rate of individual connection to 95%, improving the efficiency of distribution networks to 76% and installing an additional capacity of 14 cu metres per second. At the end of 2011, 91% of Morocco’s rural population received its water from ONEP, while the organisation’s strategy for 2012-16 aims to increase this ratio to 95% by the end of the period and develop individual supply branches at a cost of Dh5.5bn (€490m). The combination of these efforts is expected to raise the national average potable water access rate from 93% in 2012 to 96% at the end of 2016. Individual projects include plans to supply drinking water to the city of Taroudant and neighbouring villages that will utilise the Aoulouz Dam at a flow rate of 200 litres per second.
FORESTS: The priority of water conservation is intricately tied to the objective of preserving Morocco’s forests in the fight against desertification. “The best means to combat climate change and preserve water resources is through the spread of vegetal coverage and the protection of forests, which help retain as much rainwater as possible and refill natural water resources,” said Fayçal Benchekroun, the director of planning of information systems and cooperation at the High Commission for Water, Forests and Fighting Against Desertification (Haut Commissariat aux Eaux et Forêts et à la Lutte Contre la Désertification, HCEF).
Strategies to conserve water and stem desertification involved investing in the construction of hydroelectric dams, until it was recognised that the structures facilitated soil degradation as earth increasingly cluttered the dams. Accumulated collections of soil and other natural elements became so large that Morocco was losing the equivalent of one medium-sized dam per year, according to Benchekroun, necessitating the construction of at least one equivalent-sized dam per year to maintain performance. To combat this, the HCEF has begun coordinating with dam constructors to limit the impact of soil erosion and displacement, and is conducting studies to stabilise the soil one or two years prior to the construction of a new dam.
“By incorporating ourselves into the construction process, we are able to minimise erosion and the level of silting that occurs in dams. If we speak of the average life expectancy of about 30 to 40 years for a dam, we lose about five or six years, as opposed to half of the expected years, due to silt deposits that accumulate,” Isam Ahabri, the head of the division of information systems at the HCEF, told OBG.
BIODIVERSITY: Major national initiatives have also been launched to protect Morocco’s national forests and its rich biodiversity while combating land degradation and desertification. With 30,000 ha of land lost every year to climate changes and human activities, an ambitious national tree replanting programme has been initiated to cover losses. With a replanting rate of about 50,000 ha per year, within the 2005-14 replanting scheme’s context, officials expect to replant between 400,000 ha and 450,000 ha of forest, improving the quality of the soil and encouraging the fight against soil degradation while limiting the loss of dams. The HCEF has created a compensation scheme for the land closed off to citizens for replanting. The scheme awards an association representing the local populace the annual sum of Dh250 (€22.22) per ha to compensate for the deprivation of access.
National initiatives have also been implemented to stem the usage of firewood by providing alternative methods of heating for rural populations. The destruction of forests for firewood constitutes a heavy burden on conservation efforts. “The major human threat to forests is poverty. If the population is poor and the lowquality construction of their buildings does not allow heating through various means like butane, the only means to keep themselves warm during the winter is firewood,” Benchekroun told OBG.
A number of measures have been implemented to address this issue, including the replanting of trees that grow rapidly, the development of solar-powered water heaters and improvements in insulation to enhance energy efficiency. Other initiatives include planting fruit trees, an action that not only provides an alternative source of wood, reducing pressure on forests, but can also provide the rural population with produce for consumption and as a cash crop.
In light of the challenge posed by climate change, which threatens to eradicate around 22% of the kingdom’s flora by 2050, Morocco has embarked on a mission to protect its varied and diverse ecosystems. As the second-richest country in terms of biodiversity in the Mediterranean region, Morocco created 154 ecological and biological sites covering 2.5m ha, three biosphere reserves and 10 national parks under the Master Plan for Protected Areas to help maintain its status. Conservation efforts have also integrated ecotourism into their schemes, such as regulated hunting and fishing, and the development of aromatic and medicinal plants. “Ecotourism in Morocco has not been sufficiently developed in terms of potential, but it’s a sector that will generate growth and many employment opportunities by investing in the natural value of the environment,” said Mohamed Benyahia, the director of partnership, communication and cooperation at the Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water, and Environment.
OUTLOOK: Despite the presence of many environmental challenges to the kingdom, Morocco has initiated several rounds of regulations and reforms aimed at improving and expanding its environmental protection commitments. More extensive reforms are also in the process of being introduced, including a new law intended to facilitate access to information on environmental developments and regulations against soil erosion and noise pollution. With this, Morocco is poised to become a regional leader in the promotion of environmental causes, setting an example for industrialised and emerging countries alike in the fight against environmental degradation and the impacts of climate change.
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