Moroccans continue to protest against the “mines of death"

On December 31, residents of Jerada, in northeastern Morocco, braved the winter cold and stayed on the streets late into the night in what was the ninth day of continued rallies in demand for jobs, social development and government intervention in what the call “the mines of death.”

This time, protesters showed up dressed as miners, had their faces and hands blackened and were carrying black loaves and coffins. With such attire, they wanted to symbolize what happens at the many abandoned coal pits that exist in the mountains surrounding the town, where young people struggling to find employment go to try to extract some coal to then sell it; the problem is that many end up not finding the mineral but death instead.

Precisely following the passing of brothers Houcine and Jedouane Dioui after the tunnel they were digging 85 metres below ground flooded in late December, people took it to the streets. They want both regional and national officials to intervene so that young men and women are able to find regular jobs that help them make ends meet and keep them out illegal mining.

According to RFI, the protesters have created a dialogue committee that met with the governor of the Oriental region, of which Jerada is the chief town, as well as with labour unions and political parties. Yet, no agreements were reached and local media reports state that rallies are set to continue.

Last week, Energy and Mines Minister Aziz Rebbah said that his cabinet is working on solving the economic crisis by building a coal-fired power station near the city that will employ 500 people; the plant is being developed in partnership with China's Qingdao Huafengweiye Electric Power Technology Engineering Co. Rebbah’s office is also running an assessment of the area's mining potential to encourage investors to get there.

For eight decades, mining was Jerada’s main activity. However, most operations closed in the late 1990s and many of the 9,000 people working in the industry left the city, while those who stayed are scrambling to survive. Morocco’s national statistics reveal that half of the population 15 years and older living in rural areas and who have previously worked are unemployed.