Ever since the gravel and sand quarry emerged on the mountainside (2014), a few hundred meters away from their homes and agricultural lands, the inhabitants on Beni Oukil, at the foothill of Jbel Dchira, have been in the midst of an ecological struggle .
The mountain was previously owned by the State and has significant historical and cultural value. It was then sold, in rather fraudulent circumstances, for 20 million Dirhams and the new ownership was registered using forged documents .
The Oriental region of Morocco is the second most important when it comes to volume extracted from quarries, with 14% of national production. Mainly of sand and gravel, these quarries present cumbersome consequences on the environment .
In addition to the vague legal background of the issue, villagers living close to the project assert that the quarrying operation does not respect legislation pertaining to the regulation of quarrying activities and environmental impact assessment (EIA) . In fact, the “dahir” regulating quarrying that was issued in 1914 stipulates that quarries should operate at a minimal distance from residential areas .
But the Economic, Social and Environmental Council considers this “dahir” obsolete and the sector has been regulated by a memo issued by the Prime Minister in 2010, which opened the door for disorderly proliferation of quarries . The Beni Oukil quarry, for example, is at less than 60 m from homes and arable land. The law 12.03 pertaining to EIAs, forces investors to conduct a public consultation with the local population which was not done according to activists .
Dust and dynamite explosions have been some of the main public health issues related to these quarries. Moreover, the potential drying of the water table could have dire consequences on the nearby agricultural and ranching activities. In addition to that, open-air quarrying radically alters the landscape. The Beni Oukil mountains are being mined without proper restauration.
Activists from Beni Oukil have tried getting their message across in many ways. Sit-ins, road blockades and even a stall occupied by associations from the Oriental region at the COP22 were used to warn about the environmental dangers in the region .
On February 15, 2017 Mohammad Akkad and 15 other activists were violently arrested after the police department criminalized all actions that go against the implementation of this project. After condemnations by ATTAC Maroc and The Moroccan Association for Human Rights and other public campaigns, the defendants were cleared of all charges on February 27 by the Oujda court.