Questions surround minaret disaster

The collapse of a minaret which killed at least 41 worshippers during Friday prayers in Morocco is raising similar questions to thetragic floods that hit Jeddah in Saudi Arabia last November: were the deaths preventable and, if so, who failed to prevent them?

The Moroccan interior ministry has been quick to blame heavy rain for weakening the 18th century structure but this was challengedby a senior official at the state weather service who said: "The weather was not especially bad in Meknes. It would be fair to look for another factor than the weather."

Meanwhile, residents are saying they reported fears about the safety of the building but the authorities did nothing.

"People are furious. We told them repeatedly that there were cracks in the walls which were widening and that the minaret was beginning to lean but they ignored these warnings," according to one resident quoted by Reuters (and reported in Le Nouvel Observateur in French).

Another said: "We believe in God and what fate brings, but this time, lives could have been saved if the authorities hadn't shown that they do not care what people say."

One factor under investigation in the Jeddah tragedy is unauthorised diversion of funds allocated for drainage work, and it's possible that something similar lies behind the Meknes disaster. The National newspaper quotes a local activist, Younes Chaker, as saying that the minaret figured in a list of some 520 buildings described in a municipal survey as needing immediate renovation. “What happened to the budget set aside for this work?” he asked. 

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 21 February 2010.