'Sand mafias' threaten Morocco's coastline - GulfToday

'Sand mafias' threaten Morocco's coastline

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A Moroccan man fishes on a beach in the city of Mohammedia. Fadel Senna/AFP

Beneath an apartment block that looms over Monica beach in the western coastal city of Mohammedia, a sole sand dune has escaped the clutches of Morocco's insatiable construction contractors.

Here, like elsewhere across the North African tourist magnet, sand has been stolen to help feed an industry that is growing at full tilt.

A report last month by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on the global over-exploitation of this resource accuses "sand mafias" of destroying Morocco's beaches and over-urbanising its coastline.

"The dunes have disappeared along the entire city's coastline," lamented environmental activist Jawad, referring to Mohammedia, on the Atlantic between Rabat and Casablanca.

The 33-year-old environmental activist leads Anpel, a local NGO dedicated to coastal protection.

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A Moroccan man carries a child on a beach in the city of Mohammedia. 
Fadel Senna/AFP

"At this rate, we'll soon only have rocks" left, chipped in Adnane, a member of the same group.

"The looters come in the middle of the night, mainly in the low season," said a local resident in front of his grand home on the Monica seafront.

Sand accounts for four fifths of the makeup of concrete and after water is the world's second most consumed resource.

Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP.

Official complicity

In Morocco, "sand is often removed from beaches to build hotels, roads and other tourism-related infrastructure", according to UNEP.

Beaches are therefore shrinking, resulting in coastal erosion.

"Continued construction is likely to lead to... destruction of the main natural attraction for visitors beaches themselves," the report warned.

Theft of sand from beaches or coastal dunes in Morocco is punishable by five years in prison.

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A general view of the beach in the city of Mohammedia. Fadel Senna/AFP

"On some beaches, the sand has nearly disappeared" in parts of the north, said an ecological activist in Tangiers.

"There has been enormous pressure on the beaches of Tangiers because of real estate projects," he said.

Activist Jawad points to "small scale looting, like here in Mohammedia".

But "then there is the intensive and structured trafficking by organised networks, operating with the complicity of some officials".

Organised mafia

A licensed sand dredger spoke of "a very organised mafia that pays no taxes" selling sand that is "neither washed nor desalinated", and falls short of basic building regulations.

"Here, near Safi, they have taken the sand over (a stretch of) seven kilometres. It was an area exploited by a retired general, but there is nothing left to take," he alleged.

But instead, he "took kilometres" of sand.

Environmental protection was earmarked as a priority by Morocco, in a grandiose statement after the country hosted the 2016 COP22 international climate conference.

The plan promises "evaluation mechanisms, with protection programmes and (a) high status", she said.

Meanwhile, environmental activists are pleading against the "head in the sand approach" over the scale of coastal devastation.

Agence France-Presse