Thursday, September 01, 2011

Oujda's fire-ravaged souk - 10 Million to rebuild

 "The whole is a mass of ingredients marinated in soot and arranged in the geometry of ugliness and horror."

Souk Melilla in Oujda is in ashes after a fire ravaged it in the early morning of August 26. The day before it had been crowded - a teeming bazaar filled with women clutching their offspring, circulating between lanes made too narrow due to the piled items, It was a festive sight, richly arranged, beautifully dressed models and items such as banners hanging above the heads of shoppers who came out in droves to buy or stroll. One day later it was was gone, destroyed by a fire that is believed to have started from a faulty electricity generator used to light some of the shops.

According to witnesses the fire lasted for almost 23 hours and destroyed 1068 shops and over 300 other stalls. The following day the souk had been reduced to  "...just a mixture of black water,of charred wood, ash, hot, acrid smoke, corroded plastic, the remains of items consumed or half consumed, curtains ripped, broken glass and ceramic materials of all kinds in a disorder of the Apocalypse. The whole is a mass of ingredients marinated in soot and arranged in the geometry of ugliness and horror."

The timing of the fire, coming as it did, shortly before Eid Al Fitr and the new school term, could not have been worse. Merchants who had invested their savings in order to satisfy customers' Eid purchases, lost everything. In some cases the situation is desperate, as many traders bought on credit intending to use their profits to repay the loans.

According to,  even as the fire raged through the first of the shops, the looters were already at work, "as if they had made an appointment". Armed with clubs, knives and swords, they turned on merchants who were trying to save what they could of their goods. And shops whose owners had closed earlier, were opened and ransacked. There were more looters than traders. The latest reports suggest that police have arrested some 70 people accused of looting and theft during the fire.

The  governor of the prefecture of Oujda, M. El Abdelfettah Humam, met with traders on Monday and signed a partnership agreement for the reconstruction of souk. It defines the conditions for reconstruction of the souk and the nature of the contribution of the various signatories to this project in strict compliance with safety standards and hygiene,  in order to allow traders to resume their activities as soon as possible. The cost of the rebuilding is estimated to be around 10 million dirhams

The merchants undertook to respect the topographical map of the souk, to connect their shops to electricity and sanitation, and to complete the reconstruction work within a maximum three months from the date of signature of the Convention.

For its part, the urban municipality commits to conduct the necessary studies for the preparation of plans, and various other works and equipment (boundary wall, gates of the souk, walkways, paving, sanitary dependencies, mosque.) In addition to contributing to the development of sewerage and drinking water and exemption from rental fees for the merchants shops, until July 2012.

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