Morocco to decentralise urban development (

Morocco to decentralise urban development (

By Sarah Touahri for Magharebia in Rabat – 25/01/09

[Getty Images] Moroccan officials hope that greater authority at local levels will reduce the growth of shanty towns around major cities.

The Moroccan government rolled out its new national urban development strategy (SNDU) during a two-day planning forum attended by local and national officials last week in Skhirat. The project unveiled by the Interior and Housing ministries increases state support for cities by focusing on effective urban governance through greater decentralisation.

According to a 2008 government report presented to the meeting on Thursday (January 22nd), 59% of Moroccans live in urban areas. More than a million rural Moroccans moved to cities between 1994 and 2004. Urban centres are also responsible for wealth creation, accounting for more than 75% of the Kingdom's GDP.

Cities, however, are hotbeds of social fragility and consume vast quantities of environmental resources. The government's goal with the SNDU is to create a more harmonious urban policy which integrates social, economic and environmental concerns.

The difference between this new plan and proposals discussed at a similar forum two years ago is the greater role given to local authorities. The Skhirat forum sought to "strengthen the role of local actors", said Housing, Town Planning and Land Management Minister Ahmed Taoufiq Hejira.

Three factors are essential to the success of the SNDU, he said: "the delegation of powers by way of regionalisation, efforts to develop synergies between ministries to ensure that projects do not overlap and efforts to bring citizens closer to the authorities".

Community officials and organisations are key to the latest urban renewal policy. A national town planning reference framework will be created by developing the urban dimension of the National Land Management Plan and linking it to structural reforms such as the Town Planning Code.

Now, Hejira said, the challenge of urban development is to both address demand and focus on quality.

"Everyone has a voice," said Noureddine Boutayeb, the governor of the country's local councils. The rampant urbanisation Morocco is witnessing is a matter for all actors, including local elected representatives who need to be able to address urban challenges such as social cohesion, environmental protection and employment, he said.

Casablanca mayor Mohamed Sajid agrees that the country needs a broad-based vision at the local level, backed up by a desire on the part of the central authorities to get involved in urban development.

One priority is the continued eradication of shanty towns. Thirty Moroccan cities are already classified as free of slums, thanks to work over the last few years.

To solve the problem of squalid housing conditions once and for all, Hejira said his department will accelerate the slum-clearance rate. A new awareness-raising campaign includes television programmes warning of the dangers of improvised housing.

People living in Morocco's urban slums are eager to see results. Many believe the state should do more to provide them with better housing.

"No one likes living in these conditions. If I had the money, I wouldn't stay a day longer in this shanty town," Mohamed Saoud told Magharebia.

"We hope the government will act more quickly to get us out of places like this," he said.

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