Saturday, March 12, 2011

Poverty in Remote Morocco Remains Untouched

By Rachel Ferchak

Edited by Gina Edwards

Nearly one decade ago, Carolyn Logan-Taylor traveled from her home in the United Kingdom to a remote village in the Tighza Valley, a region in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains between Marrakech and Ouarzazate. She witnessed a shocking way of life that was virtually unknown to her before her voyage.

“We went to visit a house … and the family there had 11 children. And it was very poor. There was no windows, no glass in the windows,” said Logan-Taylor, describing the scene. “There were flies everywhere. A baby was lying on the floor, and we just thought, ‘Oh my goodness. How can people actually live like this?’”

What was most surprising was not the way this family and the other villagers lived. It was that the people live happily.

“The people are all happy there, you never see a sad face,” Logan-Taylor continued. “They don’t have very much materially, but socially, they seem to be where we were years ago, when everybody was dependent on everybody else.”

Improving their lives

Logan-Taylor’s first experience in Morroco led her to make it her priority to improve the lives of the villagers “without changing them.”
Logan-Taylor continues to work in Morocco alongside her husband, Mohamed El Qasemy, a native of the Tighza Valley, to bring first aid and other developments to the village.

“We need some help from the outside, because we are really poor,” said El Qasemy. “[The government has done] nothing. That’s life over here in Morocco.”

The Moroccan government has met some of the village’s needs by providing a state-run school, a water tower and electricity. However, the Tighza Valley remains one of the few regions in Morocco that has not been touched by the National Initiative for Human Development (NIHD), a $2 billion program established by King Mohammed VI in May 2005. The goal of the program is to alleviate poverty and underdevelopment throughout the country, particularly for the rural and urban-poor populations.

“If you go to Morocco, you will see the first world living with the third world,” said Aziz Mekouar, Moroccan ambassador to the United States. “We have centers of poverty in the country either in the big cities or the rural areas. Even the [NIHD] is made to make sure that the economical development … will trickle down to the poorest people.”
The "success" of the NIHD

According to Mekouar, the NIHD has been successful, specifically in its reduction of poverty.

“The number of people living under the line of poverty was, I think, five years ago around 15 percent of the population of Morocco. It dropped down to 9 percent today,” he said. “And according to the indicators and the numbers … it seems that Morocco will be one of the few countries that will achieve the Millennium Goals — part of the Millennium Challenge Compact made between the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and Morocco— by 2015.”

The MCC helps provide funding for countries to reduce poverty through growth. In 2007, Morocco made a compact with the MCC with the expectation of “[increasing] Morocco’s GDP by approximately $118 million annually and to benefit approximately 600,000 people directly and 3 million people indirectly over the Compact term,” states the MCC Executive Summary.

The $697.5 million from the U.S. is speculated to stimulate economic growth by investing in productivity in certain sectors and uncovering new employment opportunities in those sectors.

It’s moving quite quickly, and I think it will be a beautiful program,” said Mekouar.

Many social welfare programs around the world contain problems, despite their positive aspects. The NIHD is no exception. However, there are efforts — such as the services Logan-Taylor and El Qasemy provide — to serve remote regions. Other organizations include Baraka Community Partnerships (BCP), based in the U.K., and Friendship Force International (FFI), based in Atlanta, Ga.

These organizations address various issues within the smaller communities and remote regions, like Tighza, such as lack of education, medical care and exposure.

Lotfi Lamrani, a Moroccan native, oversees the Azrou FFI sector, located in the center of the country, east of Casablanca. Lamrani works to bring foreign students into the country through an exchange program in order to engage elementary and secondary school students.

“It’s not only my job, it’s my mission in life,” said Lamrani, who focuses on bringing equality to the education of students and changing elementary students’ attitudes toward prioritizing their education and studies.
Overall, Lamrani is proud of the NIHD and pleased with the work it has accomplished, although the NIHD does not provide direct funding for the FFI. He said that the major problem in the NIHD is the “privilege of information.” Many remote regions, like Tighza, are so remote that information could take years to reach the population, Lamrani said. These regions cannot apply for funding or projects because they have not heard of them.

Andy McKee, project coordinator for BCP in Tighza, addressed the similar problem of “inaccessibility.”

“The poverty up there is greater than in most areas of Morocco,” McKee said. “I think because they’re right at the end of the road, they’re literally forgotten about. They’re tucked away and left to their own devices.”

According to McKee, the people are “victims of their own culture” and do not understand how they can do any better.
The 2008 Report on Human Development

The 2008 Report on Human Development (RHD), issued by the prime minister of Morocco and the National Human Development Observatory, explains both the progress and gaps of the NIHD in reaching the population.

The RHD addresses the major concerns of the rural regions. It states, “In matters of human development, three key areas in the rural world require attention, more specifically: education, health and the improvement of revenue.”
The report addresses these difficulties, as well as possible solutions, which include new forms of education for children, basic health communication and education and a re-development of agricultural practices. The full effects of the NIHD remain unknown, as the next report will be published within the next year.

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