Casablanca’s Old Medina continues to crumble, killing residents

A building in Casablanca’s Old Medina collapsed on November 6. Photo: Awlad l’Mdina
A building in Casablanca’s Old Medina collapsed on November 6. Photo: Awlad l’Mdina

For the second time in two weeks, homes have collapsed in Casablanca’s Old Medina neighbourhood. On November 19, a building crumbled in the middle of the night, just after squatters were evacuated. And on November 6, two women were killed when their building collapsed. According to our Observer, a member of an organisation that highlights the state of homes in this working-class neighbourhood of Casablanca, many families, for want of anywhere else to go, have stayed put despite orders to evacuate.

In the Old Medina, many of the buildings are dilapidated, and collapses are recurrent and often deadly. In 2014, we looked at the problem with our Observers, in an Observers Direct report.

The building collapses peaked in 2013, but the disasters continue to occur regularly, because very little has been done to renovate the Old Medina, our Observer says.

“Some people even live in buildings where part of the roof has caved in”

Moussa Sirajeddine is president of the organisation Awlad L’Mdina (“Children of the Medina”).

Thankfully, the building that collapsed on November 19 was vacant. That was lucky, because the previous day, about 20 sub-Saharan Africans who were squatting in the building were evacuated.

Caption: The collapse on November 19.

But on November 6, we had two deaths, an elderly woman and one of her daughters. Another of her daughters was rescued from the rubble by neighbours. Most of the time, it is residents who rescue victims – not only because they are nearby, but also because emergency services are slow in reacting.


The collapse on November 6.

These women were given an evacuation order in 2012. But when they were asked to evacuate, Sonadac [Editor’s note: The National Community Development Society, which is the agency tasked with rehousing residents as part of a plan, launched almost 30 years ago, to develop a “Royal Avenue” in the area] offered them an apartment for 200,000 dirhams [around €19,000]. That’s far too expensive for families of modest means. What’s more, those apartments are on the edge of town, far from all the jobs in the Medina. So, like many other residents who can’t afford to move, they stayed in their home.

When I visit families in the Old Medina, they show me their luggage, which they leave by the door, in case they have to get out in the middle of the night. Some people even live in buildings where part of the roof has caved in.

In 2012, a national programme to rehouse inhabitants of buildings in danger of falling into ruin was launched across the country. It covers 9,250 households who live in 6,338 buildings, most of which are in Casablanca.

To rehouse them, they are offered places with rents that are more than they can afford. We have asked the authorities to let our organisation help negotiate the evacuation of families on condition they can buy homes that would cost 100,000 dirhams [around €9,500], not twice that. We have registered 3,200 families who are willing to move in such an eventuality.

Meanwhile, the authorities’ plan to renovate the Old Medina has stalled. Very little has been done. Buildings in danger of collapse have been neither demolished nor restored. The streets have been repaved but the paving has already come apart in places. The street lamps have been changed but not all of them, as had been planned. And, as for the wall surrounding the Medina, rather than restoring it, they have put up boards with stones painted on them, as if it were a film set!