Morocco is a country located in the northernmost part of Africa, within the Maghreb region. It faces onto the Mediterranean Sea and shares a border with Algeria on its eastern side. The country first came into recorded existence in the year 788 C.E, making it a country with considerable history as well as having had many different kingdoms and dynasties making up its past legacy. Nowadays it is a country with a significant amount of presence in both the African and Arab world, being home to some 37 million people and also having the fifth largest economy in the African continent. With its large financial power, coupled with the fact that it is still a country undergoing rapid urbanization, population growth as well as gaining more economic traction, it would subsequently have a large amount of air pollution related issues, similar to many countries in the region as well as other ones around the world undergoing the same transformation.
Inhabitants of Morocco are rapidly moving from rural areas into the big cities, where far more work and business opportunities can be found as the country moves itself forward. It is estimated that by 2050, Morocco will have over 73 percent of its population living within the major cities, with prominent ones such as Casablanca already experiencing a degree of trouble within its city limits due to the massive amounts of growth taking place, a phenomenon that is also seen in many countries in Asia, whereby a cities infrastructure fails to cope with the mass influx of people, leading to many novel sources of pollution usually coming from busy roads, new construction areas as well as from the increased demand for electricity and other utilities.
In early 2021, the city of Casablanca was seen with PM2.5 readings going up to 31.2 μg/m³, a reading that would place it into the higher end of the ‘moderate’ pollution bracket, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³ to be classified as such. Whilst there will be many fluctuations in pollution across the various cities in Morocco due to both meteorological conditions as well as human based activity (with the cessation of mass movement in 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak showing large cuts of certain pollutants in the air), it stands to reason that readings coming in on the higher end of the moderate bracket show that Morocco has some pollutive issues that may see a progression as time moves on, not just in Casablanca but throughout all of its cities. This is an issue that will need addressing both from a government standpoint as well as on an interpersonal level, lest the pollution levels continue to rise and cause further damage to both the population and environment.
Addressing some of the main causes of pollution in Morocco, there are a multitude of factors that stand out. These can then be compounded further by other factors, such as geography, urban topography as well as the aforementioned meteorological situation. Coastal cities such as Casablanca, Rabat and El Jadida are fortunate in their location due to strong coastal winds often aiding in carrying away accumulated pollution, something in which a landlocked city such as Marrakesh does not have the luxury of being subject to. Other factors that can also influence the pollution levels are altitude, with some of mountainous regions in Morocco having exceptional qualities of air, a far cry from the inner cities with their busy intersections and multitudes of factories and power plants. In opposition to this, a location that is surrounded by mountains, hills or even the aforementioned urban topography such as many high rise buildings within a city center actually aid in the accumulation of pollution, leaving the air to stagnate with a lack of wind, which allows dust, chemical pollutants and other fine particulate matter to build up significantly.
Regarding the main causes of pollution, one of the more prominent ones would be exhaust fumes from automobiles, with a large variety of cars, motorbikes and other personal vehicles inhabiting the roads, as well as even less environmentally ones known as heavy duty vehicles, which include trucks, lorries and buses. Many of these automobiles are of the aged variety, having been manufactured in an era when emission standards were different, as well as suffering from the pollutive output typically caused by aged and lower quality motors (coupled with low quality fuel on occasion), which leak far more noxious oil vapors, chemical compounds and particulate matter than a newer or more environmentally friendly counterpart would. As touched on previously, large reductions of air pollutants were recorded over 2020 due to the large scale cut down of unnecessary movement throughout the cities by many people, showing just how much of an impact excessive vehicular usage can have on the environment.
Other causes would be equally prominent and destructive, and include sources such as factory emissions, as well as emissions from power plants and other similar industrial areas. This is something that will only increase alongside the population and city size, with further demand leading to more energy being consumed and new industrial units being built.
This leads onto the further issue of pollution caused by construction sites, one that is not commonly acknowledged but can lead to large amounts of dangerous materials being released into the air, with poorly maintained construction sites often leaking finely ground dust and other contaminants, some of which will be discussed in short. Other sources are ones such as the burning of garbage and refuse, which can contain within it organic matter as well as synthetic ones, with low income districts being more notorious for this due to lack of proper garbage disposal infrastructure. This leads to people burning their waste as a convenient disposal method, as well as utilizing wood or charcoal within their homes for the purposes of cooking, as well as heating during the colder months. These are some of the more prominent causes of air pollution throughout Morocco.
Pollution in Morocco can cause widespread damage to a large variety of different areas, with the environment being one of these, along with various ecosystems (typically found more in rural areas as well as on the outskirts of major cities) and most prominently that of human health, something that has become more salient in peoples minds in recent years, and for good reason, with the catastrophic results of excessive pollution really starting to rear its head.
Aside from the effects on the soil, water supply and various animals and wildlife, some of the main issues caused to human health would be ones such as a variety of respiratory related illnesses. There are also short term ailments that can arise, more so for people with preexisting conditions or those with a sensitivity towards chemicals. Irritation to the mucous membranes can occur, with the mouth, nose, eyes and ears all being susceptible to irritation, as well as increased instances of dry coughs and chest infections. Inhalation of excessive amounts of pollution can cause rapid aging and scarring to occur in the lung tissues, which besides reducing full lung function and shortening people’s life span (as well as the quality of their life), can also lead individuals to becoming more susceptible to further illnesses down the line.
Some of these illnesses include ones such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, an umbrella term that whilst it generally refers to anything that reduces lung function or denotes pulmonary damage, can also contain within it conditions such as pneumonia, emphysema, bronchitis and aggravated forms of asthma. With great relevance to the health and functions of lungs, as well as that of the respiratory tract, the previously mentioned PM2.5 refers to particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, also having the possibility to go down to sizes as small as 0.001 microns and beyond. Due to this incredibly small size, it has a plethora of health hazards that it can cause upon inhalation, hence its importance in calculating the overall AQI, or air quality index, as well as being a prominent indicator of air quality even when used alone. In reference to pulmonary health, with its extremely small size, PM2.5 can penetrate deep into the tissues of the lungs and from there cross over into the bloodstream via the blood barrier.
Once in the bloodstream, these tiny particles can wreak havoc on many of the bodies systems, with damage to the blood vessels being a major occurrence, alongside damage to the liver and kidneys (due to their role as filtering organs) as well as the heart and of course the lungs and respiratory tract (with higher instances of throat and lung cancer occurring with excessive pollution exposure).
Instances of ischemic heart disease can also occur, whereby the heart tissue fails to receive enough oxygen and thus starts to get damaged as a result. Much like damage to the lung tissues, the same can be said of the heart and damage to the heart tissues leads to individuals being more susceptible to cardiac events such as heart attacks, arrythmias and angina. These are some of the health issues related to breathing polluted air in Morocco, highlighting the danger that pollution presents and the need to reduce its quantity in the air (as well as in the water and soil).
Whilst everyone is vulnerable to damage from the various types of pollutants found in the air in Morocco, there are various groups or demographics that would be more at risk due to a variety of reasons. Some of these groups would be ones that have a weakened or compromised immune system (either caused by disease, accidents or congenital defects) and hypersensitivity towards chemicals. Others include young children, who can have their physical and mental development greatly hampered by over exposure to pollution, as well as developing allergies that can turn into lifelong problems. This is something that is a known issue in much of the world, with children who are raised within inner city limits often developing asthma and other similar issues, caused by excessive exposure to vehicle fumes, household dust and other pollutants, as well as lack of access to clean air and natural environment (an often overlooked fact that is very important in the development of a strong immune system, with time spent among nature and even soil providing vital stepping stones for the immune system to strengthen itself).
Another demographic that is particularly at risk would be pregnant mothers, who can suffer from a large variety of health impairments to their unborn child from excessive pollution exposure. Some issues that arise may include cases of miscarriage, babies born either prematurely or with a low birth weight, alongside physical and cognitive defects all being a very real possibility. The elderly may also find themselves more vulnerable as well, although of note is that no portion of the population is truly immune to the damaging effects of pollution, particularly when exposed in large quantities.
With much of its pollution arising from combustion sources such as vehicle engines and industrial sites, much of the pollution found in Morocco would be closely related to the burning of certain materials. Some of these pollutants would include ones such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as well as sulfur dioxide (SO2), both of which can cause instances of acid rain to occur, as well as damaging the lining of the lungs and triggering off some of the previously mentioned respiratory conditions when inhaled.
Other pollutants include ones such as carbon monoxide (CO), polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, as well as black carbon (the main component in soot) and volatile organic compounds (VOC's), both of which are released from the combustion of organic material as well as fossil fuels, hence finding their release from all of the above mentioned sources, as well as even from household items such as cosmetic products or varnishes and lacquers often found on furniture. Some examples of VOC's include benzene, toluene, xylene, methylene chloride and formaldehyde, all of which are highly harmful to human health, as well as exceptionally easy respire due to their volatile nature keeping them in a gaseous state at lower temperatures.