While Casablanca is the economic and industrial heart of Morocco, it is also one of the most polluted cities in the kingdom. Recently, residents have taken to Facebook to raise awareness about the issue through the groups “Save Casablanca” and “Action Casa”. On these pages, residents report the things that aren’t working in their city and join forces to carry out clean-up operations.
With more than 140,000 members, the Facebook group “Save Casablanca” (which says it is "Bringing together people who care deeply about the future of Casablanca") has become a forum for discussions among residents of the so-called white city.
What is quickly clear is that people have a lot of concerns about the city – ranging from poorly built buildings to dumpsters overflowing with rubbish to dilapidated buses to overcrowded sidewalks. A lot of the posts are about pollution, which makes sense since as according to the World Health Organization, Casablanca is one of the most polluted cities in Morocco.
Someone posted this photo of a dumpster overflowing with rubbish in Casablanca on the Facebook group “Save Casablanca” on July 11, 2018.
This photo of a car parked across a pavement was published on July 11, 2018, on the group "Save Casablanca".
“It’s also a place to let people know what their friends and neighbours find inconsiderate behaviour like parking a car on a sidewalk or blocking pedestrian crosswalk”
Journalist and writer Mouna Hachim founded the group “Save Casablanca” in October 2013. She said the aim is to bring people together to solve common problems and to rebuild ties within the city.
There are four main themes of discussion on this group: the management of rubbish and city cleanliness, public transportation, the use of public space, and security.
As this group has gained a wider following, it has resulted in some changes. Fairly often, someone will post something about a pile-up of rubbish in their neighbourhood. People start to comment on it and share it. Then, soon after, city workers come and deal with the issue.
Quite a few journalists follow our page so that brings some media attention to issues that affect a large number of Casablanca residents. Recently, for example, there were debates on the state of the beaches around Casablanca and the people who take over various sections and illegally force beachgoers to pay if they want to swim or sunbathe there.
We’ve also seen both municipal officials and those who work with the public transportation system release statements to respond to certain criticisms posted on the group. We think that is fairly brave of them. It is also a space to let people know what their friends and neighbours find inconsiderate behaviour, like parking a car on a pavement or blocking pedestrian crossings.
Aside from that, I really hope that this group can help people feel more tied to their city and to be more invested in caring for it.
This photo of the Aïn Diab beach was taken on July 11, 2018. A police action to clear the beach of illegal vendors (who charge beachgoers to use chairs and umbrellas) doesn’t seem to have had much effect. (Photo posted on the Facebook group “Save Casablanca”.)
Speaking out – but acting too
The transition from a virtual complaint to concrete action remains difficult, according to Hachim. However, the group has sparked other projects in the city. Starting in October 2017, a collective of citizens who met through “Save Casablanca” joined forces to launch an initiative called Action Casa, which aims to take concrete actions.
Lawyer Fedwa Bouzoubaa is one of the people behind this movement. Every month, she participates in a group clean-up organised by members.
We created a Facebook group, which now has more than 4,000 members. Our aim is to continue the work of “Save Casablanca”. There was a group of us who were tired of denouncing problems without doing anything to fix them. We thought it was all the more important because all of us Casablanca residents are partially responsible for the state of our city.
In just nine months, our volunteers have already organised around 20 events, all of which have had a strong impact. For example, we were one of the first groups to run a clean-up campaign in the town’s cemeteries, which are often very dirty.
"We use these events to try to raise awareness about other similar topics, like recycling”
We always seek the proper authorisation to work in any given area. Usually, we get permission and sometimes even supplies! Sometimes municipal workers actually join us to work side-by-side. We aren’t trying to do their job for them, we just want to help make this city a nicer place to live.
We also try to use these operations to raise awareness about other topics, like recycling. In Casablanca, there is no official system for sorting recycling from rubbish. However there is an informal economy made up of people that we call "chiffonniers", who collect cardboard and glass from rubbish bins to resell it.
When we are organising a clean-up effort, we often try to invite partner organisations, like startups or environmental groups. We explain how to sort rubbish and give the recyclable materials directly to the chiffonniers. This summer, we are going to spend a lot of time working on the beach because some of them are extremely polluted. When the school year starts up again, we are going to start some new projects. We hope to run several programs in local schools.
A group cleans up the cemetery in Al Ghofrane on June 10, 2018. Photo: "Action Casa".
A group cleans up rubbish on the Aïn Diab beach on May 27, 2018. Photo: "Action Casa".
A group cleans up a square known as Place des Nations-Unies on March 4, 2018. Photo : "Action Casa".
Helping other cities across the globe
There are projects like this all over the world. The France 24 Observers wrote about a similar initiative launched in June 2017 by the Senegalese photographer Madione Laye Kembé called "Save Dakar". The aim of that project is to show the "deterioration in the quality of life” and “traffic hell” in the Senegalese capital.
In Istanbul, one of our Observers uses Twitter to share pictures documenting the way that the capital Istanbul is being slowly covered with concrete.
>>READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Ugly Istanbul: An activist fights the eyesores of urbanisation
Meanwhile, sick of seeing cars parked on pavements or on pedestrian crossings, residents of Skopje, Macedonia launched a campaign on social media to get the attention of the authorities.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Macedonians take to Twitter to expose parking offences