On Sunday, November 19, a stampede occurred in Sidi Boulaalam, Morocco as an unidentified local charity was distributing food aid. The cause of the stampede is still being investigated, but 15 were killed and at least 40 more injured according to reports, mainly women and the elderly.
Witnesses told reporters that crowds were larger than usual during this annual aid distribution. As Sidi Boulaalam is a small, rural village, many of the injured were taken to Essaouria, 40 miles away, and Marrakech, over 90 miles away. The King of Morocco has said he would pay medical and funeral costs for the victims of the incident, BBC News reported.
Though as of 2014, the percentage of people living in “extreme poverty” (as defined by the World Bank as under $1.90 per day), had fallen Morocco to 4.2%, the unemployment rate is around 9% and inequality has persisted. In the same year, 15.5% of the country was living on $3 a day or less – within the World Bank’s definition of moderate poverty – and this number threatened to grow, given the dependency on agriculture in rural areas. The aid being distributed on the 19th was valued at $16 per person.
The situation has been compounded by the ongoing drought in Morocco over the last few years. By 2016, wheat production in the country had dropped 50% from the previous year due to the drought. Contributing to the drought’s impact are problematic crop choices, like watermelon, which require higher amounts of water to produce than other crops.
Earlier in November there were a series of protests and subsequent arrests over water shortages in Southern Morocco. Only 40% of people in rural areas are connected to water systems, and even when water is available, it is not always of drinkable quality. Additionally, about 40% of the country is employed by agriculture; the drought has led to tens of thousands being unemployed. Like many rural towns Sidi Boulaalam, a town of over around 8,000, is impoverished, worsened by the ongoing drought, especially as the drought has decreased food production and increased costs.
The government has been investing in dams, wastewater treatment, and desalination to combat the drought. However, other government programs to remedy the growing problems with poverty have been fraught with issues. Just a month before the stampede, the ministers of education, planning and housing, and health were let go by the King after “imbalances” were found around a plan to fight poverty in the Rif, a region in northern Morocco. After public protests over the lack of drinking water available in the Rif, King Mohammed VI publicly acknowledged that current programs were not effective and were struggling with corruption.
In a speech to Parliament, the King said, “greater firmness is needed to break with the laissez-faire and fraudulent practices that harm the interests of citizens.”
Sources and Further Reading:
Morocco Food Stampede Leaves 15 Dead and a Country Shaken – The New York Times
Poverty has Fallen in the Maghreb, but Inequality Persists – The World Bank
Moroccan food stampede kills 15 – BBC News
15 dead, 10 hurt in a stampede for food aid in Morocco – The Washington Post
Morocco: Fifteen women killed in food aid stampede – Al Jazeera