In Morocco, a blue tourist town is turn­ing green


CHEFCHAOUEN: Hud­dling against a hill­side in north­ern Morocco is a tourist town famed for the strik­ing blue of its build­ings, and now the mayor is mix­ing in an­other color — green.

Chefchaouen — known lo­cally as Chaouen — wants to be­come a model for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment at a time when the north­west African king­dom has shone a spot­light onto its com­mit­ment to the en­vi­ron­ment and a greener fu­ture.

Take Aziz, a lo­cal coun­cil em­ployee in his for­ties. He whizzes silently around town on an elec­tric bi­cy­cle do­ing his job as an in­spec­tor of build­ing sites. “It’s a prac­ti­cal and eco-friendly way of get­ting around!” he said.

“It re­spects the en­vi­ron­ment and al­lows us to get around eas­ily with­out us­ing pol­lut­ing modes of trans­port,” Aziz says, wear­ing a flu­o­res­cent safety vest and with a hel­met firmly on his head.

Mo­hamed Se­fi­ani, mayor of the town of some 45,000 res­i­dents where vis­i­tors come to ad­mire hun­dreds of hues of blue, said Chefchaouen be­gan to go green more than seven years ago.

“In April 2010, the mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil took a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion aimed at trans­form­ing Chaouen into an eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able town,” he said.

Lo­cal po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment to the project is strong, the mayor said, but much still needs to be done. “Chefchaouen isn’t an eco­log­i­cal town yet, but it cer­tainly has the will to be­come one,” said a smil­ing Se­fi­ani. “We are in a tran­si­tion phase. At a Moroc­can and African level, we’re among the most ad­vanced towns in this re­spect.”

A newly in­au­gu­rated mu­nic­i­pal swim­ming pool equipped with so­lar en­ergy is near an “ecol­ogy cen­ter” built from re­cy­cled con­tain­ers where the town’s green projects, funded mainly by the EU and backed by sev­eral NGOs, are high­lighted.

France’s GERES — Group for the En­vi­ron­ment, Re­new­able En­ergy and Sol­i­dar­ity — was asked to help trans­form Chefchaouen.

“It was at the town’s re­quest that we came here to sup­port its en­ergy and cli­matic tran­si­tion,” said the NGO’s Vir­ginie Guy, who is co­or­di­nat­ing the project.

Among the ini­tia­tives is an “info-en­ergy” cen­ter to raise aware­ness about en­ergy sav­ings, pho­to­voltaic pan­els at sev­eral sites, such as the mu­nic­i­pal li­brary, that con­trib­ute to elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion, and an en­vi­ron­men­tally ori­ented mu­seum is also nearly com­plete.

The info-en­ergy cen­ter’s Houda Hadji ex­plains the ba­sics of eco-con­struc­tion, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and the ben­e­fits of en­ergy-sav­ing light bulbs, among other green top­ics.

“There’s very strong in­ter­est” from vis­i­tors to the cen­ter, said the young guide, her hair con­cealed un­der an el­e­gant veil. “This is the first ini­tia­tive in Morocco work­ing on en­ergy up­grad­ing in build­ings, and pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion about sav­ings, tar­get­ing both busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als,” she added.

Chefchaouen is one of 12 south­ern Mediter­ranean lo­ca­tions to ben­e­fit from a Euro­pean pro­gram that has granted it around 10 mil­lion dirhams ($1 mil­lion) and de­clared the town “a model and ini­tia­tor of change in sus­tain­able en­ergy man­age­ment.”

But not ev­ery­thing is green yet in the lit­tle blue town.

“The pub­lic dump is not yet up to stan­dard,” Mayor Se­fi­ani con­ceded.

“We’re work­ing on a land­fill and re­cov­ery cen­ter, and I think that by 2021, we will have ironed out all the prob­lems.”

With “green” mosques, so­lar and wind farms, elec­tric buses and a ban on plas­tic bags, Morocco has been forg­ing ahead with en­vi­ron­ment-friendly poli­cies over the past few years.

It reg­u­larly trum­pets its proac­tive strat­egy in terms of green en­ergy, in­sti­gated by King Mo­hammed VI.

Late last year, in the south­ern city of Mar­rakesh, the coun­try hosted the COP22 in­ter­na­tional climate con­fer­ence, and has be­gun an am­bi­tious plan to de­velop re­new­able en­ergy.

In a coun­try de­void of hy­dro­car­bon re­sources, the aim is to in­crease the share of re­new­able en­er­gies na­tion­ally to 52 per­cent by 2030 (20 per­cent so­lar, 20 per­cent wind, 12 per­cent hy­dro).

A mas­sive flag­ship project was in­au­gu­rated by the king in Fe­bru­ary last year. The Noor so­lar power plant is on the edge of the Sa­hara desert, some 20 km out­side Ouarza­zate.

Spread over an area equiv­a­lent to more than 600 foot­ball pitches, the plant’s half a mil­lion metal mir­rors fol­low the sun as it moves across the sky and store the en­ergy col­lected from its rays.

De­spite push­ing its green cre­den­tials, Morocco still has many en­vi­ron­men­tal hur­dles to clear on its way to cleaner hori­zons.

A re­cent World Bank re­port cov­ered by Moroc­can me­dia spoke of “alarm­ing” peaks of at­mo­spheric pol­lu­tion in the coun­try’s ma­jor cities.

And a num­ber of eco projects an­nounced to great fan­fare dur­ing the 2016 COP22 con­fer­ence re­main just that — an­nounce­ments.

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