Since mid-June, thousands of dead fish have been rotting along the banks of the Moulouya River, in north-east Morocco. While tests are being carried out to establish the cause of death, environmental activists are blaming a local sugar refinery that they accuse of “environmental crimes.”
After residents notified local environmental groups of the situation, these groups formed a collective called the “North Moroccan Green Platform” to shed light on the problem. The collective points out that the river’s estuary is classified as a protected site of biological and ecological interest, and that its fauna risks extinction. In Oriental, a north-eastern region of Morocco, dead fish litter the river’s shores for dozens of kilometres, as several videos show.
This video was filmed by members of environmental groups along the Moulouya River on July 18. More of their footage is available here.
The environmentalists put the blame on the sugar refinery Sucrafor. The refinery is part of the Moroccan group Cosumar, which has a monopoly on Morocco’s national sugar production. This is not the first time that the company has been blamed for contaminating the Moulouya River. In the 1980s and 1990s, environmentalists said Sucrafor had released more waste water into the river than was legally allowed.
This new scandal comes just one month after the new Moroccan constitution was adopted. Article 35 of the constitution stipulates that the state guarantees all citizens the “right to water, a clean environment and sustainable development.”
The North Moroccan Green Platform’s allegations have not been proven and tests are still in progress to determine the cause of death. FRANCE 24 has attempted to contact Sucrafor, but has not yet received a response.
"We’re waiting for the king to intervene under the auspices of the new constitution to save the Moulouya River"
Najib Bachiri is the president of the Man and Environment Organization in Berkane, a city in the Oriental region in north-east Morocco.
On July 15, someone came to our office in Berkane carrying a dead fish. He wanted to let us know there was a problem with the Moulouya River. Several members of our collective travelled down the river to where it meets the Mediterranean in order to pinpoint the source of the pollution. For dozens of kilometres we saw all sorts of dead fish. After 50km we arrived at the Oued Zebra tributary near to the town of Zaio. The water at this point was hot, black and smelled horrible. Not far from there is Sucrafor, a sugar refinery.“It’s no coincidence that the fish died after the sugar beet production period"
We think it is obvious that the fish were poisoned by the chemical waste products from the factory. But when we met the director of Sucrafor on July 20, he refused to admit that the factory’s waste is toxic. He told us that we had no proof and that only lime [and no chemical products] was used in the sugar refining process. According to him, it is the National Office of Drinking Water that is causing the problem by dumping its waste water. But that is not the case. If it were, then the problem would have been going on all year and not have appeared all of a sudden in July at the end of the sugar beet production. [According to Cosumar's website, sugar beet processing begins in May and lasts for three months on average.] It’s no coincidence that the fish died after the sugar beet production period: Sucafor is committing an ecological crime!
“Farmers told me that their sheep died after drinking water from the Moulouya River”
Royal Guard officers are carrying out tests in their laboratory in Rabat. We are awaiting the results and if Sucafor is indeed the cause of the catastrophe, we will take the case to court. In the meantime, local residents are very worried, as they don't have any information. They have not irrigated their melons and watermelons with water from the contaminated river. But it is not only the fruit products which are under threat. Farmers have told me that their sheep died after drinking the water from the Moulouya.
“I see this catastrophe as a test for the king and his new constitution”
As an environmental activist, I see this catastrophe as a test for the king and his new constitution, which expanded the environmental rights of his subjects. Ecology is a very recent notion in Moroccan politics. It has become quite trendy but nothing has really changed. The country’s two green parties have said nothing about this particular problem. There is actually a minister in charge of problems like these - the Ministry for Energy and the Environment [officially, the Ministry for Energy, Mines, Water and the Environment]. But he pays more attention to Energy than the Environment!
The king has insisted that Morocco was going to enforce the international treaties it has signed. I hope this includes Ramsar [the International Convention on Wetlands which came into effect in 1975 and was signed by Morocco in 1981]. We’re waiting for the king to intervene under the auspices of the new constitution to save the Moulouya River."
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.