To many, Casablanca, the ”White City” of Morocco, is a spectacular place to live. Every year, countless visitors troop into the city to see and experience for themselves how life in this city can be. While most visitors are drawn to the business opportunities the city offers, a few people are drawn to some of the city’s beautiful sights. Places like the Hassan II Mosque and the Arabian League Park are among the most frequently visited tourist sites. However, this beautiful city, the pride of Morocco and Africa generally, seems to be battling with a major problem that according to the World Health Organization could pave the way for an uprising of a major health challenge for residents of the city.
The pigeon problem a serious health risk
One recurring topic of discussion and headlines for news channels and newspapers in Casablanca these days is the dirty and unhygienic state of the city. Even worse is the fact that the dirtiness of the streets stems not only from the indifference of the local authorities towards the building wastes beside the city’s beautiful roads and popular areas but also from similar indifference the administration has shown towards the growing pigeon problem most residents have complained of. The Casablanca pigeons appear to have found a home in the city’s parks and buildings. These are the same parks they litter with their droppings, thus creating an unhygienic and disturbing sight to behold.
The implications of the Casablanca pigeon problem
Everyone knows that many health problems are associated with dirtiness but do people really understand the magnitude of the issue?
A thousand and one health risks are associated with a dirty environment. Some diseases gotten from dirty environments are so severe that they could cause death. Sadly, people do not realize this until they are already affected. It seems that they are knowledgeable yet ignorant at the same time. Did you know that about 130,000 deaths that occur annually have been proven to be caused by cryptococcus neoformans, one of the fungal organisms found in pigeon droppings? The situation is even worse than it seems. Pathogens like psittacosis, cryptococcosis, and histoplasmosis are very commonly associated with pigeon droplets. Viral diseases like influenza have also been known to be quite deadly.
Psittacosis is a deadly infectious disease usually spread to humans from infected birds who are members of the parrot family. Asides from birds like macaws and cockatiels, who are known members of the parrot family, pigeons have been known to spread the disease too.
Psittacosis is acquired when one inhales the droppings of infected birds. These droppings contain the bacteria chlamydia psittaci. Upon inhalation, these bacteria infect the lungs and result in symptoms such as headache, chills, and muscle and chest pain (characteristic symptoms of pneumonia).
Psittacosis has and should never be treated as a mere joke. Like the flu, its spread is exponential, and the disease can result in death. Typically, within 5 to 19 days of exposure to the bacteria, infected people begin to complain of symptoms. Sadly, unlike certain diseases, prior exposure to psittacosis does not make one’s immune system more equipped to handle the disease next time. As such during the next exposure, the immune system may be overwhelmed and not even prepared to fight the disease.
Cryptococcosis is a fungal disease caused majorly by the fungi cryptococcus neoformans or less commonly by the fungus known as cryptococcus gattii. This fungal infection is acquired by breathing in the spores from the air. The fungi are commonly found in dried pigeon droppings as well as in decaying wood and the hollows of some species of trees.
When the lungs are infected, as occurs in most cases, patients complain of symptoms similar to pneumonia. These symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, and fever. However, when other parts of the body are infected, additional symptoms occur. These symptoms include meningitis-like symptoms for brain infections and partial or total blindness when there are additional eye infections.
Like the diseases mentioned before, histoplasmosis is a deadly disease spread through inhalation. When people inhale spores of the organism Histoplasma capsulatum from dried pigeon droppings carried by moving air, they get down with histoplasmosis. This deadly disease mimics the flu and is characterized by symptoms such as pericarditis (inflammation of the heart), esophageal and vocal cord ulcers, and damage to the kidneys and adrenal glands. Several outbreaks killing thousands of people have been recorded throughout history, and Casablanca may soon face its own major outbreak.
Bacteria diseases can no doubt be deadly but the damage they cause is nothing compared to viral diseases. Influenza is a viral disease that is becoming a growing source of concern worldwide. This disease is caused by inhalation of the influenza virus which can be found floating in the air owing to the presence of dried pigeon poop. This often occurs after prolonged exposure to the droppings. The symptoms of this disease mimic the Coronavirus disease and can cause several respiratory failures in patients. Furthermore, like most viruses, the influenza virus has mutated over time and is still mutating. This leaves a lot to wonder about the current strain of the virus that the birds may be carrying.
If tackled correctly and effectively, this issue could prove the effectiveness of the Casablanca governing bodies. Additionally, the method used to tackle this problem will also greatly reflect the ability of the current mayor, Dr. Nabila Rmili (A medical Doctor) to handle delicate issues as a mayor worthy of public acceptance and respect. Thus far, the current mayor has proven that public office and service are anything but gender-specific. However, the true test of good leaders comes from how they address issues, especially matters which pose a great risk to their citizens. Needless to say, getting rid of the pigeons is a bold step Dr. Nabila Rmili needs to take. However, the method used also determines the result. The city should consider hiring professional companies that offer pigeon removal services which in many other cities were used successfully.
Casablanca is not the only place where pigeons have become a nuisance, but Casablanca is one of the few places managing it very poorly. In places like Venice, London, Singapore, Bangkok, and Seoul, though present, the pigeons do not cause as much nuisance as they do in Casablanca. The effectiveness of these cities to address the pigeon problem arises from the laws the cities have set in place to control the problem. In these and in most cities that experience this problem, there are antifeeding laws that prohibit people from feeding the pigeons. Not only will antifeeding laws against the feeding of pigeons be effective, but it will also be cheaper in the long run.
People need to understand that these pigeons are not pets to feed. They survive without people’s food. If the city of Casablanca could illegalize the feeding of pigeons, not only will the city become cleaner, but it will also become more beautiful and attract even more tourists. No doubt, pigeons are beautiful sights to behold, but even the most beautiful thing becomes harmful if done without moderation.
The economic consequence of indifference
On the other hand, if treated nonchalantly, not only will the people’s health be affected, its economy is sure to suffer a big blow.
According to the Statistica Global Business Cities Report, Casablanca, Morocco’s financial capital, currently ranks 4th among the top five places to do business in Africa, following Cairo, Algiers, and Johannesburg. Looking at the potential profits from investments in the city, business people all around the world are always drawn to the city. What the city lacks in tourist sights it makes up for in business opportunities.
However, with the growing poor hygiene problem which threatens to affect the lives of residents of the city, many visitors may be forced to desert the city, and potential investors may be dissuaded from choosing the city preferring instead other cleaner and health-friendly cities like Cario and Johannesburg.
If the growing pigeon problem in Casablanca is not taken care of by addressing the source of the problem, the city could face a major health crisis in the near future that could have worldwide repercussions.
The city of Casablanca has no doubt fallen from grace and seems to keep on falling. The city’s streets have become home to creatures that may soon become the reapers that will claim the lives of its citizens. In fact, what is really stopping the current mayor Ms. Nabila Rmili from putting an end to the pigeon problem? Antifeeding laws have been found to be effective in places like London and Venice, and today these places are one of the most beautiful and most loved places to visit in the world. The government of Casablanca has to choose. Will Casablanca become equal with places like London and Venice, or will it turn dead ears to the warnings about the growing pigeon problem and all the pandemic risks they pose to the lives of its citizens and indeed to the world?