In Morocco, heroin addiction sweeps cannabis corridor

A Moroccan addict smokes heroin in a squat behind a police station in the Moroccan city of Mediek near Tetouan. (AFP)
Updated 06 October 2019

In Morocco, heroin addiction sweeps cannabis corridor

  • The spread of heroin is facilitated by the “great population mobility” between southern Europe and northern Morocco

TETOUAN, MOROCCO: In a filthy squat in a beach town in northern Morocco, drug users inject and smoke heroin, a relatively recent scourge plaguing a region long known for cannabis and contraband.

Rachid says he does nothing with his life, except heroin.

“I shoot up four or five times a day,” the 34-year-old said, breathing raggedly.

He shows his arms, scarred from a decade of injecting, before taking a sniff of glue to “prolong the high.”

Half-a-dozen others are shooting up or smoking heroin alongside Rachid in the squat, located behind a police station in Mediek, a Mediterranean resort near the city of Tetouan.

A dose of the powerful opiate they heat on aluminim foil sells for between €2.8 and €6.5 ($3-7) for a tenth of a gram.

Every week, a team from the Association for the Fight Against AIDS (ALCS) comes to the squat to hand out syringes to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

The sale and consumption of heroin is illegal in Morocco, but thanks to the efforts of ALCS in Tetouan, “it is very rare that users are arrested for their own personal consumption,” said Dr. Mohamed El-Khammas.

He runs the harm reduction program launched by ALCS in 2009, which combines awareness raising, distribution of materials like clean needles and screening.

“The idea is not to moralize, but to help the user to reduce negative effects,” Al-Khammas said.

In this region, known worldwide for its hashish produced in the Rif mountains, heroin use is a relatively recent development that is growing exponentially, experts say.

“It’s a public health priority, especially as the heroin being sold is very bad quality: It is mixed with talcum powder, paracetamol and glue,” Al-Khammas said.

The typical user is a “single man, aged 30-35 with little or no education who has never worked or works on an occasional basis,” according to a 2014 report from the National Observatory on Drugs and Addiction (ONDA).

The northern urban centers of Tetouan, Tangier and Nador are Morocco’s worst affected areas.

The spread of heroin is facilitated by the “great population mobility” between southern Europe and northern Morocco, and the increased use of “well-established cannabis routes” by traffickers from Latin America to smuggle cocaine and heroin to Europe, ONDA said.

Those drug barons also barter heroin for cannabis in the Rif, according to ALCS staff.

The number of heroin users in Morocco is unknown.

According to ALCS, there are likely several thousand heroin users in Tetouan alone, a city of 380,000 people, which was once the seat of the Spanish administration under the dictator Francisco Franco.

Hassna, a 46-year-old ALCS caseworker, distributes clean drug paraphernalia from her backpack to users gathered in the Mediek squat.

“We urge them not to share syringes, we accompany them to health centers and we try to convince them to take care of themselves,” she said.

Rachid said he is “incapable of quitting.”

But he does want access to methadone: “That’s all we ask,” he said.

This opioid substitute is distributed by addiction treatment centers in Tetouan, but in “insufficient amounts,” Rachid said.

“Withdrawal is terrible, you have cramps, anxiety,” said his companion Mohamed, a waxen-faced 24-year-old with a syringe buried in his tattooed arm.

Every evening, an ALCS medical vehicle is parked in a different location, with a doctor, nurse and field workers on hand.

Once a week, the team parks near a cemetery overlooking Tetouan, a common spot for users. One of them, a 56-year-old named Said, said he “lost everything” because of heroin.

“I am at rock bottom,” he said.

“The hardest part is on the social level,” 37-year-old Abdelilah said.

“I lost 30 kilos because of this crap. When an old friend sees me in the street, he looks away.”

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

A Yemeni tries to catch locusts on the rooftop of his house as they swarm several parts of the country bringing in devastations and destruction of major seasonal crops. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2020

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

  • Billions of locusts invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring seasonal crops

AL-MUKALLA: Locust swarms have swept over farms in central, southern and eastern parts of Yemen, ravaging crops and stoking fears of food insecurity.

Residents and farmers in the provinces of Marib, Hadramout, Mahra and Abyan said that billions of locusts had invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring important seasonal crops such as dates and causing heavy losses.
“This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters,” Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, an agricultural official from Hadramout’s Sah district, told Arab News on Sunday.
Images and videos posted on social media showed layers of creeping locusts laying waste to lemon farms in Marb, dates and alfalfa farms in Hadramout and flying swarms plunging cities into darkness. “The locusts have eaten all kinds of green trees, including the sesban tree. The losses are huge,” Abu Baker added.
Heavy rains and flash floods have hit several Yemeni provinces over the last couple of months, creating fruitful conditions for locusts to reproduce. Farmers complained that locusts had wiped out entire seasonal crops that are grown after rains.
Abu Baker said that he visited several affected farms in Hadramout, where farmers told him that if the government would not compensate them for the damage that it should at least get ready for a second potential locust wave that might occur in 10 days.
“The current swarms laid eggs that are expected to hatch in 10 days. We are bracing for the second wave of the locusts.”  
Last year, the UN said that the war in Yemen had disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts and several waves of locusts to hit neighboring countries had originated from Yemen.

This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters.

Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, a Yemeni agricultural official

Yemeni government officials, responsible for battling the spread of locusts, have complained that fighting and a lack of funding have obstructed vital operations for combating the insects.
Ashor Al-Zubairi, the director of the Locust Control Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture in Hadramout’s Seiyun city, said that the ministry was carrying out a combat operation funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Hadramout and Mahra, but complained that the operation might fall short of its target due to a lack of funding and equipment.
“The spraying campaign will end in a week which is not enough to cover the entire plagued areas,” Al-Zubairi told Arab News. “We suggested increasing the number of spraying equipment or extending the campaign.”
He said that a large number of villagers had lost their source of income after the locusts ate crops and sheep food, predicting that the outbreak would likely last for at least two weeks if urgent control operations were not intensified and fighting continued. “Combating teams could not cross into some areas in Marib due to fighting.”
The widespread locust invasion comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) on July 10 sent an appeal for urgent funds for its programs in Yemen, warning that people would face starvation otherwise.
“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.