Morocco’s blue tourist town is turn­ing green

Khaleej Times - - MIDDLE EAST - AFP

chefchaouen (morocco) — 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 colour — 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 says.

“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, says 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 says.

Lo­cal po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment to the project is strong, the mayor says, but much still needs to be done. “Chefchaouen isn’t an eco­log­i­cal town yet, but it cer­tainly has the will to be­come one,” says 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 cen­tre” built from re­cy­cled con­tain­ers where the town’s green projects, funded mainly by the Euro­pean Union 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,” says the NGO’s Vir­ginie Guy, who is co­or­di­nat­ing the project.

Among the ini­tia­tives is an “info-en­ergy” cen­tre 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 cen­tre’s Houda Hadji ex­plains the ba­sics of eco­con­struc­tion, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and the ben­e­fits of en­ergy-sav­ing light­bulbs, among other green top­ics.

“There’s very strong in­ter­est” from vis­i­tors to the cen­tre, says 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 adds. Chefchaouen is one of 12 south­ern Mediter­ranean lo­ca­tions to ben­e­fit from a Euro­pean pro­gramme that has granted it around 10 mil­lion dirhams ($1 mil­lion, 900,000 eu­ros) 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 con­cedes. “We’re work­ing on a land­fill and re­cov­ery cen­tre, 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. —

AFP

A woman walks in Chefchaouen in the Moroc­can Rif re­gion. —

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