COVID-19 could expand poverty in Morocco, experts warn

A report issued by Morocco’s High Planning Commission (HCP), the UN and the World Bank revealed that the pandemic has driven up the country’s poverty rate from 17.1% percent in 2019 to 19.8% in 2020.
Wednesday 30/09/2020
Volunteers disinfect a housing complex to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Sale, near Rabat, Morocco. (AP)
Volunteers disinfect a housing complex to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Sale, near Rabat, Morocco. (AP)

 RABAT--Poverty has increased in Morocco, notably in the countryside, but also in the cities, as economic circles oppose free social support mechanisms.

A report issued by the Morocco’s High Planning Commission (HCP), the United Nations and the World Bank revealed that the coronavirus pandemic has driven up the country’s poverty rate from 17.1% percent in 2019 to 19.8% in 2020.

The report, which studied the social and economic impact of the pandemic in Morocco,  drew pessimistic conclusions about Morocco’s economic prospects.

Moroccan police officers remind sellers to respect the security measures such as distancing and wearing a mask in a market of Casablanca, Morocco. (AP)
Moroccan police officers remind sellers to respect the security measures such as distancing and wearing a mask in a market of Casablanca, Morocco. (AP)

It also followed official statistics issued by the HCP in May stating that 33.33% of Moroccan families had lost their source of income after many businesses were forced to close due to quarantine measures.

The HCP, the United Nations in Morocco and the World Bank believe the repercussions of the health crisis will ultimately push over 1 million Moroccans into poverty in the coming years.

Omar Kettani, an economics professor at Mohammed V University in Rabat, said the lasting damage to the economy is even worse than the expected rise in poverty.

“Now there is a conviction that there will be an increase in this rate, what is the next necessary official step?” he reportedly said. “Especially with the fact that poverty in Morocco is geographical in nature, as it comes from rural areas and reaches the cities.”

“We must study the geographical development of this social issue and its expansion from the countryside to the cities. We should not only focus on the rise in poverty rates but its growth in cities, as this is the most dangerous aspect.”

He added: “dealing with poverty in the countryside costs little. However, it is more difficult to manage in the cities. Therefore, tackling this issue while it is easier to block should be a priority.”

The professor also noted that “the crisis had a great impact in cities other than the countryside,” stating that “the epidemic is costly in cities with poverty belts scattered around it.”

He added that the expansion of poverty is Morocco’s greatest challenge. “Cities are at risk of exploding due to this issue because they are the ones that produce new jobs, while the countryside is related to agriculture.”

Economic expert Mehdi Fakir echoed concerns that the country’s health crisis would lead to greater poverty.

He listed three reasons the pandemic has exacerbated the trend. First, that it has halted economic activity in certain sectors, leading to mass layoffs; second, it has led to a “reduction of the number of working hours, which will leave hundreds or thousands of families with limited income” and third, “damage to the unregulated sector, which will affect job opportunities.”

A woman looks on as she crosses the Jemaa el-Fna square in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh , currently empty of its usual crowds due to the COVID-19 pandemic.(AFP)
A woman looks on as she crosses the Jemaa el-Fna square in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh , currently empty of its usual crowds due to the COVID-19 pandemic.(AFP)

“It is true that the concerns are justified and legitimate, but the intensity of the impact will become evident with time,” Kettani added. “We must wait before we move to evaluate the situation.”

However, Kettani warned that providing direct financial support to Moroccan families is not a sustainable solution. “We should not give them money for consumption,” which will “only contribute to preserving poverty,” he said. He noted that exceptions should be made for the elderly, widows and homeless children.

Morocco launched a social initiative 15 years ago called The National Human Development Initiative (INDH). Its first phase lasted between 2005 and 2010, while the second was between 2011 and 2015.

In September 2019, Morocco launched the third phase that spans five years, with an estimated budget of 18 billion dirhams ($1.9 billion).