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Sand Miners threaten Morocco’s coastline

The looters come in the middle of the night, mainly in the low season

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an Abandonned sand miners village

Beneath an apartment block that looms over Monica beach in the western coastal city of Mohammedia, a sole sand dune has escaped the clutches of Morocco’s insatiable construction contractors. Here, like elsewhere across the North African tourist magnet, sand has been stolen to help feed an industry that is growing at full tilt.

A report last month by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on the global over-exploitation of this resource accuses “sand mafias” of destroying Morocco’s beaches and over-urbanising its coastline. “The dunes have disappeared along the entire city’s coastline,” lamented environmental activist Jawad, referring to Mohammedia, on the Atlantic between Rabat and Casablanca.

The 33-year-old environmental activist leads Anpel, a local NGO dedicated to coastal protection. “At this rate, we’ll soon only have rocks” left, chipped in Adnane, a member of the same group. More than half the sand consumed each year by Morocco’s construction industry – some 10 million cubic metres – is extracted illegally, according to UNEP.

“The looters come in the middle of the night, mainly in the low season,” said a local resident in front of his grand home on the Monica seafront. “But they do it less often now because the area is full of people. In any case, there is nothing more to take,” added the affable resident.

Sand accounts for four fifths of the makeup of concrete and – after water – is the world’s second most consumed resource. Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP.

Official complicity

In Morocco, “sand is often removed from beaches to build hotels, roads and other tourism-related infrastructure”, according to UNEP. Beaches are therefore shrinking, resulting in coastal erosion.

“Continued construction is likely to lead to destruction of the main natural attraction for visitors – beaches themselves,” the report warned. Theft of sand from beaches or coastal dunes in Morocco is punishable by five years in prison. Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

“On some beaches, the sand has nearly disappeared” in parts of the north, said an ecological activist in Tangiers.  “There has been enormous pressure on the beaches of Tangiers because of real estate projects,” he continued.

To the south, the UNEP report noted, “sand smugglers have transformed a large beach into a rocky landscape” between Safi and Essaouira. Activist Jawad points to “small scale looting, like here in Mohammedia”. But, “then there is the intensive and structured trafficking by organised networks, operating with the complicity of some officials”.

While the sand mafias operate as smugglers, “key personalities – lawmakers or retired soldiers – hand out permits allowing them to over-exploit deposits, without respect for quotas”, he added.

Organised mafia

A licensed sand dredger spoke of “a very organised mafia that pays no taxes” selling sand that is “neither washed nor desalinated”, and falls short of basic building regulations. These mafia outfits have “protection at all levels… they pay nothing at all because they do everything in cash”, this operator added, on condition of anonymity.

“A lot of money is laundered through this trade”. A simple smartphone helps visualise the extent of the disaster. Via a Google Earth map, activist Adnane showed a razed coastal forest, where dunes have given way to a lunar landscape, some 200 kilometres south of Casablanca.  

Eyes fixed on the screen, he carefully scrutinised each parcel of land. “Here, near Safi, they have taken the sand over (a stretch of) seven kilometres. It was an area exploited by a retired general, but there is nothing left to take,” he alleged. Adnane pointed to another area – exploited, he said, by a politician who had a permit for “an area of two hectares”.

But instead, he “took kilometres” of sand. Environmental protection was earmarked as a priority by Morocco, in a grandiose statement after the country hosted the 2016 COP22 international climate conference. Asked about measures to fight uncontrolled sand extraction, secretary of state for energy Nezha El Ouafi pointed to “a national coastal protection plan (that) is in the process of being validated”.

The plan promises “evaluation mechanisms, with protection programmes and (a) high status”, she said. Meanwhile, environmental activists are pleading against the “head in the sand approach” over the scale of coastal devastation.

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Nigeria to sign military cooperation deal with Russia

Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari is due to meet Putin on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit in Sochi

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Nigeria to sign military cooperation deal with Russia

Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari hopes to sign a military-technical cooperation deal with Russia at talks with President Vladimir Putin this month that will help it fight Boko Haram militants.

The Nigerian leader is due to meet Putin on the sidelines of a Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea city of Sochi amid a push by Moscow to expand its influence in Africa.

“We’re sure that with Russian help we’ll manage to crush Boko Haram, given Russia’s experience combating Islamic State in Syria,” Nigerian envoy, Steve Ugbah said in an interview with Russia’s RIA news agency, adding that Nigeria was interested in purchasing Russian helicopters, planes, tanks and other military equipment.

Ugbah says a military-technical cooperation deal between Russia and Nigeria had already been drafted and that it is awaiting finalisation. 

“We hope President Buhari can take the talks to their logical end. The agreement will open new possibilities in such areas as the supply of military equipment and training for specialists,” he adds.

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Nigeria, Cameroon to plan Cocoa price cartel

The plan suggested by Nigeria is part of a trend by cocoa growers in West Africa and Latin America

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Nigeria, Cameroon to plan Cocoa price cartel

Nigeria aims to team up with Cameroon to agree on a premium for its cocoa with buyers, after the world’s top growers, Ivory Coast and Ghana set a price floor for the crop.

The plan suggested by Nigeria, the world’s fourth-largest cocoa producer, is part of a trend which has seen growers in West Africa and Latin America seek to influence prices in the global market.

The move follows Ghana and Ivory Coast’s union in July, which set the price for a ton of cocoa from their countries at $2,600 plus a $400 premium described as “living income differential”.

READ: Cocoa industry stakeholders accept Ghana, Ivory Coast price

Both countries produced 60 per cent of the world’s cocoa in 2018.

Vice President of the World Cocoa Producers Organisation, Sayina Riman says discussions will be held with the private sector and the Nigerian Government before formal talks are held with Cameroon.  

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Exxon to invest $500 million in Mozambique LNG project

Construction of onshore facilities has been awarded to a consortium led by Japan’s JGC, U.K firm TechnipFMC and U.S. company, Fluor Corp

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Exxon to invest $500 million in Mozambique LNG project

Exxon Mobil plans to invest more than $500 million in the initial construction phase of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Mozambique.

The U.S. oil company’s $30 billion Rovuma LNG project, jointly operated with Italy’s Eni, has a capacity of more than 15 million tonnes a year (mtpa) and is set to pump much-needed cash into the country’s ailing economy. 

“The Area 4 partners will advance midstream and upstream area project activities of more than $500 million as initial investments,” Exxon head of power and gas marketing, Peter Clarke told a ceremony in Mozambique’s capital Maputo on Tuesday.

Construction of onshore facilities has been awarded to a consortium led by Japan’s JGC, U.K firm TechnipFMC and U.S. company, Fluor Corp.

“These EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) contracts cover the construction of two natural gas production trains with a total capacity of 15.2 million tons per annum, as well as associated onshore facilities,” Clarke adds.

Final investment decisions, a term used by the oil industry to mean the commercial and regulatory aspects of a project are finalised, will be made in 2020.

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