In Jerada, a deprived commune in northern Morocco, hundreds of miners risk their lives to smuggle coal. A few days ago, two miners had died and sparked a wave of protests as residents accused the authorities of leaving them to their fate.

They are called the "mines of death": in this ancient mining town, nearly a thousand people venture daily into abandoned mines, about two decades after their closure, without any protection and putting their lives in risks.

Houcine and Jedouane, two brothers aged 23 and 30, died last Friday but one of 2018, in an accident in a coal mine. Their death has aroused anger and excitement among the local population who claims to be "marginalized" and has demonstrated against the authorities for their "abandonment".

Before the closure in the late 1990s of the mine, considered too expensive by the authorities, the mining activity in Jerada employed some 9,000 workers and was the main resource of the population. Since the closure, the number of inhabitants has increased from 60,000 to less than 45,000. Despite the official closure of the activity, the youth of the city continue to venture into these wells to extract coal by hand, which will be sold to local traders. The death of the two brothers was clearly the last straw that broke the camel's back. Residents are protesting and expressing their anger at their "marginalization" and demanded work.

Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine El Othmani said he was ready to "welcome parliamentarians from the region to discuss the problems in the area." Energy and Mines Minister Aziz Rebbah said the state was building a coal-fired power station near the city that will employ 500 people, mostly from the region. Jerada is one of the poorest municipalities in Morocco, according to data from the Office of the High Commissioner for Planning (HCP), the Moroccan statistical agency.

The call of Jerada was heard: Governor of the Oriental region

"The call of Jerada was heard and the government will shoulder its responsibilities,” Wali of the Oriental Region, governor of the prefecture of Oujda-Angad, Mouad El Jamai told reporters following a meeting with the province’s civil society actors.

The meetings held with representatives of political parties and civil society, as well as with elected officials, provided an opportunity to listen and better understand the concerns of the various components of the local population with a view to finding the appropriate solutions to meet their expectations as soon as possible and launching ambitious development plans in the region, he added. At the meeting co-chaired by El Jamai along with Governor of the province of Jerada, Mabrouk Tabet, civil society actors underlined the urgent need for economic alternatives that would foster local development and improve the living conditions of the inhabitants. They also underscored the importance of regulating mining activities and ensuring the security of workers, noting that economic players should be encouraged to invest in the province.

The region’s natural resources, including ground water, should be better used to boost agricultural activities, they added. They also called for a preferential billing scheme as two power plants are located in the province, and underlined the importance of creating additional jobs in order to reduce unemployment. The province civil society’s actors also called for supporting the widows of coal miners as well as people diagnosed with silicosis. They also stressed the need to open a direct dialogue with protesters with a view to finding appropriate solutions to meet their demands.

For his part, El Jamai applauded the peaceful character of the demonstrations, noting that the dialogue is open to everyone with a view to finding the appropriate means to advance the province’s development. He also stressed that any economic alternative requires the population’s support and involvement. Prior to that meeting, three other meetings were held with members of the Provincial Council, representatives of political parties and members of Jerada’s Communal Council to discuss the means to address the province’s problems.

Government Continuously Works for Implementation of Programs in Jerada City

The government is very concerned by the issue of the city of Jerada, like the other regions of the Kingdom, and continuously works for the implementation of ongoing projects, as part of a direct and careful follow-up, in Rabat, minister delegate for Relations with Parliament and Civil Society, government spokesperson, Mustapha El Khalfi. He added at a press briefing after the weekly cabinet meeting that the head of government, Saad Eddine El Othmani, is following this issue on an ongoing basis with the various government sectors concerned, noting that the minister of Energy, Mining and Sustainable Development had presented data showing the efforts made in this regard before the incident in the city.

The minister noted that the coal mines in Jerada have been closed for more than 15 years and that permits have been issued as part of the development of mining resources in the region, adding that a project to develop a geological map of the area has also been initiated. A mission had traveled to this region before the incident, in collaboration with local authorities in order to explore ways to enhance the potential of the region, he underlined. The import of coal was also ensured so that existing production stations could continue to operate, he stressed, noting that employment opportunities in the region are closely linked to these stations.