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2023 Morocco Earthquake

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Image of partially collapsed building with two female children looking at the rubble

On Sept. 8, a devastating magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit Morocco just after 11 p.m. local time.

The earthquake’s depth was 11.5 miles, and the epicenter was 44 miles southwest of Marrakesh (French: Marrakech) near the town of Adassil, in the High Atlas Mountains, Al Haouz province. There are many picturesque but tiny villages in the mountains, several of which were devastated.

Marrakesh, a historic and popular tourist destination, was the most impacted large city, with a population of 840,000 people. The quake was felt in several other Moroccan cities, including Casablanca, Agadir, Essaouira and Rabat. It was also felt in Algeria and Portugal.

While 380,000 people were severely affected due to their proximity (less than 30 miles from the quake’s epicenter), the overall number of affected people was much larger. At least 500,000 people have been displaced.

LeMonde reported, “In the provinces of Al-Haouz and Taroudant, which account for 90% of deaths and injuries, one million people are directly affected by the earthquake.”

According to Data Friendly Space, “Discrepancies between governmental and international estimates indicate that between 380k and 2.8 million people were affected, with the broader area housing 6.6 million residents.”

Although Marrakesh and Taroudant have higher levels of relative wealth, according to Crisis Ready, the earthquake “occurred in a predominantly rural and mountainous area with low levels of relative wealth particularly near the epicenter.” These mountain villages are very remote and hard to reach with aid and resources.

While Moroccan officials and partners worked to clear the roads, this took some time because of the amount of damage, limiting the response to the remote areas. Many areas were only accessible by donkey or motor bike.

This earthquake was the strongest to hit Morocco in at least 120 years. Hundreds of aftershocks have been recorded, with the highest being a 5.9 quake. Data Friendly Space reports that 59,000 homes were damaged and 19,000 homes were destroyed.

Earthquakes are among the most devastating natural hazards. .

According to the United Nations Satellite Center (UNOSAT) 5 million people felt the earthquake in Marrakech-Safi, Drâa-Tafilalet and SoussMassa provinces. UNOSAT said that they had observed damaged and destroyed structures in “several villages in the Atlas mountains around Adassil (Chichaoua province).”

The earthquake occurred in the African Plate, which the New York Times says is “about 340 miles south of the African-Eurasian plate boundary, which is seismically active.” Earthquakes at the intersection of these plates tend to occur at relatively shallow depths, which can make them more dangerous.

While natural hazards, such as earthquakes, are inevitable, their impact on society is not. A 1960 quake in the city of Agadir killed more than 12,000 people and led to enhanced building codes. However, rural homes do not always follow these guidelines.

Funders can help minimize the impact of future disasters by advocating for safe building construction, supporting risk communication campaigns, investing over the long term to ensure a complete recovery incorporating risk reduction, and strengthening preparedness and resilience.

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Key facts
  • In 2022, remittances from the Moroccan diaspora were among the highest in Africa and reached $10.75 billion, an increase of 16.5% from 2021. Remittances often increase briefly after a disaster, before returning to normal levels. Remittances are an important method for families to sustain and improve themselves. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake “exacerbating a broader economic contraction – could cost Morocco up to 8% of its GDP this year.”
  • By Sept. 12, many people in the more remote and rural communities had migrated immediately to the larger cities of Marrakesh (which saw a 33% population increase and Taroudant (which had a 45% increase).
  • “Moroccan authorities have not permitted foreign aid givers to work alone within the country,” according to the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia (ADMA), so they must pair up with local organizations. Through their assessment process, AMDA realized that Moroccan officials were adequately managing response and decided not to deploy more medical personnel.
  • In many of the remote villages, houses are built from mud bricks. While a traditional and environmentally sustainable construction method, this means they are extremely vulnerable to natural hazards such as extreme rain or earthquakes. Experts say such traditional materials leave fewer chances for air pockets or spaces in which people can survive after buildings collapse to be formed.
Death and injuries

As of Sept. 14, there were 2,946 deaths and 5,674 people injured. These numbers have not been updated or changed as of Oct. 23, but it is felt that this may still not be an accurate count.

The epicenter, Al-Haouz, saw more than half of the deaths, with a high number also occurring in Taroudant province. BBC said the earthquake, “left a vast, perilous field of strewn boulders, mud bricks and timber.”

Because earthquakes are so rare in this area of Morocco, buildings are not built to withstand the shaking from an earthquake. The newer buildings in Marrakesh survived much better than older buildings without the same safety standards. The Washington Post quoted a Maryland-based earthquake geologist, Wendy Bohon, who said, “Earthquakes don’t kill people. Buildings kill people.”

Source: UNOSAT
Government response

Moroccan authorities led all response activities, including search and recovery, ensuring adequate blood supply and sending food and critical non-food items to the most affected areas.

Moroccan Red Crescent teams provided physical and mental health care support, including transportation to hospitals for people with injuries. UN OCHA said, “His Majesty King Mohammed VI has instructed his government to expeditiously continue field relief efforts and provide care to the victims of the earthquake. He has also mobilized Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity to support citizens in affected areas.”

On Sept. 15, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, spoke to reporters in Geneva and said, “the country has a distinguished history of building up and investing in its own response capacities, as well as the incredible generosity of local organizations and volunteers from across the country. The Moroccan Government has mobilized tremendous resources to respond to the earthquake, pulling survivors from the rubble, providing medical care and distributing essential aid. Mr. Griffiths reiterated that the United Nations stands ready to support the immediate and longer-term national efforts, including on coordination.”

Morocco did not issue an appeal for international assistance, instead, it selected which international offers of support it would take. Professor Sylvie Brunel at Paris-Sorbonne University is the former President of Action Against Hunger. She told Le Figaro, “King Mohamed VI therefore wants to keep control of his country. It is also a form of national pride … International humanitarian aid always flows from developed to undeveloped countries. As an emerging country, which wants to be an interlocutor with Europe and which aspires to the status of regional power in Africa, Rabat wants to show that it is sovereign, capable of managing relief, and not behave like a poor country..”

The New York Times reported that in the immediate aftermath that the government hadn’t shared much information, and some Moroccans on social media criticized the government’s response as “slow and uncoordinated.”

In the mountain village of Douar Tnirt, people received supplies from a charity in Marrakesh on Sunday, three days after the earthquake, but still had not seen any government assistance. The lack of government support motivated locals to engage in mutual aid and support, providing for each other’s needs without a coordinated plan from Moroccan officials. There are also pre-existing international, national and local non-profits who have been responding since the earthquake hit. CDP maintains a list of these organizations and can help funders decide where to donate.

The first 72 hours after an earthquake are known as the “golden period” when rescuers are most likely to find survivors. It is important that a comprehensive search and rescue effort is carried out during this time. All but seven of the people whose bodies were found as of Sept. 12 were buried in rubble. The government responded to criticism that they were not taking all the offered assistance by pointing out the logistical challenges in moving large numbers of people to remote and rural villages. They felt that they had enough people to clear roads to provide access for search teams.

As the Associated Press reports, “Quickly getting them to Morocco’s disaster zone in the Atlas Mountains could have been tough. Roads and dirt tracks that can be hard to navigate at the best of times were destroyed and blocked by fallen rocks. Morocco also has bad memories of chaotic international aid that followed another deadly quake in 2004. After the latest temblor, the Interior Ministry cautioned that poorly coordinated aid ‘would be counterproductive.’”

Food insecurity

According to the World Food Programme, 7.1 million people (about 18%) in the country do not have sufficient food consumption. However, prior to the earthquake, the Global Hunger Index related Morocco as having low hunger issues (9.9).

The GHI is based on four key indicators. “Undernourishment: the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake. Child stunting: the share of children under age five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition. Child wasting: the share of children under age five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition. Child mortality: the share of children who die before their fifth birthday, partly reflecting the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments.”

In 2022 in Morocco, undernourishment was a concern for a slightly larger share of the population 5.6% of the population, representing an increase from 4.1% in 2014. However, for children under 5 years old there were decreases across the board: child stunting affected 15.1% (from 15.8% in 2014), child wasting 2.6% (from 3.1% in 2014) and child mortality 1.9% (from 2.5% in 2014).

Not everyone believes the official numbers. In 2021, The People’s Dispatch reported, “Activists in Morocco who see the reality on the ground, have little faith in these official numbers. They attribute what they call a substantial underestimation to the government’s lack of will to accurately report on the situation, made possible due to the control of the monarchical system. Additionally, activists remark that the immense social stigma attached to ‘hunger’ in the country means that many people will not admit to their situation. The numbers are especially hard to believe given that the national rate of multidimensional poverty among children is 39.7% and in rural areas, this number is as high as 68.7%. Multidimensional poverty considers factors such as access to education, healthcare, water, hygiene, housing, and food and nutrition.”

Al Haouz is mostly an agrarian province. There has been an extensive drought in the area, affecting agricultural production, including food.

Older adults

Help Age International reported up to half a million people over 60 lived in the affected area. “Older people face very high risks in the aftermath of an earthquake. They are particularly vulnerable to shock and trauma and often take longer to recover from injuries, while needing urgent and specific medical assistance. The hardship caused when forced to sleep outside in difficult conditions can be particularly challenging for older people and they often struggle to access what aid is offered as well as other essential items such as regular medicine for chronic health conditions, the supply of which is often disrupted.

With aftershocks and an increasing death toll expected, there is a high risk that further damage is to come, compounding the needs of those most at risk.”


At least 78,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake. In the aftermath, many people slept outside, under tarps, in tents or in their cars, either because their home was damaged or destroyed or because they were afraid of aftershocks. Tents and temporary shelters were erected to help people survive during the rebuilding phase.

It is critical that people get moved into more secure and stable housing as the rainy season and winter draw closer. During winter – November to April – temperatures at night may drop below freezing and it frequently snows.

CARE Morocco’s National Director, Hlima Razkaoui said, “With thousands of families affected by the recent earthquake in the High Atlas mountains sleeping in the open and winter around the corner, dignified shelter is an urgent priority. The first phase of the emergency focused on saving lives and feeding the survivors, but it is now also imperative to provide them with shelter … Women, girls, and people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable at such times. With rains starting and winter nearing, we simply don’t have the luxury to wait.”

Project Hope was also very concerned about the rural and remote communities. In the immediate aftermath, they conducted assessments through SAMU-Maroc, which used mobile medical units to reach people without access to care. They found that main highways had some aid, but “smaller villages, called ‘duars,’ do not have access to health care and residents are unable to travel to points of service. Many of the duars that our partners were able to visit were completely destroyed, with little shelter left. Government officials have distributed five tents per duar, but some duars are home to almost 100 people.  Project HOPE’s team was able to visit Aoulouz, a larger town in Taroudant Province that sustained serious damage. There were at least 200 tents propped up in informal settlements amongst the ruins. It is estimated that at least 1,000 people are living in the tents with no evidence of clear and consistent access to clean water or proper sanitation facilities, including toilets or showers.”

Related to shelter, are the adjacent needs of mattresses and blankets, solar lighting and safe cooking supplies.


Children are a highly vulnerable population after a disaster. While the number of families who have been affected or displaced is not known yet, it can be anticipated that many will need recovery assistance. Families may be displaced due to the destruction of their homes or because they are afraid of aftershocks causing more damage.

UNICEF stated that “Longer-term, children and families affected will need shelter, safe drinking water, health and medical help, and food and nutrition support. Child protection services including psychosocial support will be critical in helping children and parents process their distressing experiences. Getting children back into school is also critical for their long-term recovery.”

About 100,000 children were affected and 530 schools, along with 55 boarding schools, were damaged or destroyed. Interruptions in schooling can increase risks of children not returning to education in the future.

Immediate needs

According to the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department the most needed items included “shelter (adapted tents), winterisation items, WASH, psycho-social support and cash.”

As the disaster moves into recovery, healthcare is an ongoing need because of the high number of injured people. The government opened field hospitals to help meet demand. Additionally non-food items, often referred to as NFIs, were a growing demand. This can include warm clothes, tents, blankets, lights and cooking supplies. WASH, cash and psycho-social support continue to be a critical issue.

In a press release on Oct. 2, Médecins Sans Frontières said, “Currently, people most severely affected by this crisis urgently need psychological support. This includes search and rescue teams and frontline volunteers. Our teams talked to dozens of distressed women and men in heavily affected areas in all locations that we assessed. Most had lost relatives, friends or saw their houses and villages flattened. Some were still waiting for the bodies of their loved ones to be recovered, acutely aware that live rescue was no longer an option.”

Cash assistance

As with most disasters and emergencies, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs and quickly re-establishing access to basic needs.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy recommends cash as a donation method and a recovery strategy. Direct cash assistance can allow families to purchase items and services that address their multiple needs. It gives each family flexibility and choice, ensuring that support is relevant and timely. Cash-based approaches to disaster recovery also give people the freedom to choose how they rebuild their lives and provide a pathway to economic empowerment.


Striking without warning, earthquakes often are among the most devastating natural hazards. The aftermath of an earthquake can bring immediate and long-term health impacts, especially in lower- and middle-income countries.

There were almost 6,000 injuries reported.
A CDP staff visit to Turkey to learn about the impacts of the earthquake that struck the country earlier this year found that prosthetics were one of the top needs due to the number of injured limbs and amputations from crush injuries. This is typical in other earthquakes as well, as people may be trapped under rubble for hours or days.

Even minor injuries may use blood products, medical supplies or put a strain on facilities with limited numbers of staff. Health care professionals from across Morocco went into Marakkesh to help, as will medical nonprofit organizations in the country.

Peace Winds Japan sent a team of six to assess the situation. They felt that trauma needs were currently addressed but there were still issues for people with chronic diseases who were having difficulty accessing medical care. This was a significant problem in the mountainous regions. Concerns the team identified included pregnancy, blood pressure, wound care, heart palpitations and anxiety.

In early October, Direct Relief provided two grants totaling $75,000 to support midwifery services. “Emergencies disproportionately impact certain populations, including pregnant women and very young children. Midwives, trained and equipped for care, can facilitate safe births outside a hospital setting, which is particularly important when hospitals are scarce or overwhelmed with patients due to disasters.”
Mental health and psychosocial support

Survivors of deadly earthquakes are forced to deal with lasting trauma. The high number of deaths will lead to the need for grief and bereavement support. Some families have been forced to bury the dead without carrying out their traditional and religious customs, which may enhance their grief later.

Médecins du Monde points out that there is a need for “psychological support for disaster victims as well as front-line teams: rescuers, psychologists, health personnel, etc. who had to take action without having time to grieve.”

The earthquake’s devastation has affected two major economic activities.

First was tourism, especially in cities like Marrakesh, and in rural villages such as Ourigane, home to one of Richard Branson’s hotels. Although some tourists already in Marrakesh said they are not letting the earthquake affect their plans, other people, and tour operators may cancel trips. It is also essential to prevent disaster tourism of people wanting to see the damaged sites.

While Marrakesh, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the larger tourist attraction, the hiking lodges, inns, resorts and hotels in the High Atlas mountains provided many jobs for the locals of the Ourigane Valley. This includes jobs in hotels, restuarants and recreational activities. Many of these locals are Berbers (also known as the Amazigh ethnic group).

The New York Times reported, “By 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed the sector, tourism accounted for about 7 percent of the kingdom’s gross domestic product and an estimated half-million jobs, a vital source of growth in a largely agricultural country struggling with drought.”

The agricultural sector, which has limited opportunities overall, is the second impacted area. Crops include corn, wheat, olives, almonds and walnuts.

A lot of the agricultural is small-scale, for either personal use or small sale. In rural communities, subsistence agriculture has been affected by years of ongoing drought. Many women who work in subsistence farming are unpaid or underpaid.

Yossef Ben-Meir, the head of the High Atlas Foundation, a Moroccan association and U.S. nonprofit organization with a high concentration of programs in the affected area, told CDP that “80% of rural incomes come from agriculture.” The programs that HAF runs, include a number of agricultural projects to support women’s empowerment and enhance environmental protections.

In addition, the drought also caused wildfires and reduced harvests. In Azilal province, livestock breeding is a main livelihood. Drought is also hard on livestock because it reduces their grazing access.

Rural – urban divide
The earthquake may enhance divisions between rural and urban communities. Many rural communities were devastated but did feel they received adequate response and support from the government. This feeling was in existence before the earthquake, too. The New York Times said, “The crisis is also likely to aggravate inequality between urban areas, with their gleaming airports, high-speed trains and sophisticated restaurants, and the rural ones that never received much in the way of support services.”

Additionally, those who were employed in the tourism sector may have to move to bigger centers to find work if the industry is not rebuilt quickly. Crops include corn, wheat, olives, almonds and walnuts.


After a disaster, protecting vulnerable individuals and ensuring access to their basic rights are immediate priorities.

According to UNOCHA, “Gender inequality exacerbates the impact of disasters, and the impacts of disasters exacerbate gender inequality and vulnerability. Of particular concern are vulnerable women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities who are disproportionally affected. Learning from other similar contexts, the risks of sexual exploitation and abuse will likely increase with the limitation of mobility in the earthquake response, disruption of social safety nets and the lack of information around confidential reporting mechanisms makes it difficult for survivors (including children) to access whatever response services remain operational.”

Psychological stress is high in such contexts. Homelessness and onward movement can create or exacerbate protection risks. The protection and security of children are also major concerns.

Women and girls in earthquake-affected areas need access to safe spaces, such as dedicated areas for women and children, recovery support for activities linked to housekeeping or child care work, protection against violence such as case management centers and women’s shelters, and facilities that provide women and girls with water, sanitation, hygiene and education services.





Although local and national governments are responsible for building codes and ensuring they are enforced, philanthropy can support efforts to reduce vulnerability in the built environment through research, advocacy and safe reconstruction. If there are gaps in the funds provided by the government for rebuilding, funders can also help support home reconstruction or provide temporary shelters, while permanent structures are being constructed.

People without shelter are exposed to the elements, which is challenging in hot and cold weather, especially for those who are very young, older populations or people with health concerns.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has a Global Recovery Fund that provides an opportunity for donors to meet the ongoing and ever-expanding challenges presented by global crises.

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Philanthropic contributions

If you would like to make a donation to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, need help with your disaster-giving strategy or want to share how you’re responding to this disaster, please contact development.

Photo from West Midlands Fire Service

Recovery updates

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We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Philanthropic and government support

Governments around the world were quick to express solidarity and offer assistance, including human, logistics, supply and financial resources. Morocco did not issue a broad call for international assistance but  accepted some offers from nongovernmental organizations and certain countries. Spain, Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates sent disaster teams at the government’s request. The royal palace is providing financial assistance for damaged homes, with the first installment of reconstruction assistance of about $5,400 (20,000 dirhams) scheduled for Nov. 1, 2023. Families are also to be given technical assistance through architectural plans that suit the area.

A disaster commission set up to administer the earthquake recovery program, valued at $11.7 billion USD, determined that all families with partially or completely collapsed homes would receive $240 USD per month for one year, beginning early October. The commission is hearing appeals from those families that were not included in the first round of assistance. The commission will also upgrade the road linking the town of Ouirgane to Talat N’Yaaqoub and Tizi N’test to Tafoughalt. They will allocate funding for farmers to regrow their herds, and will subsidize barley and compound feed.

As noted in a press release from the king, the commission also decided that: “Immediate action will also be taken to implement urgent reconstruction projects, including architectural and technical studies for the reconstruction and improvement of over 1000 schools, upgrading 42 local healthcare centers, shoring up historical sites, and strengthening and restoring mosques, Zaouias, and mausoleums. To ensure the monitoring and funding of these projects in various sectors such as education, healthcare, infrastructure, housing, culture, tourism, agriculture, and religious endowments, credits amounting to [$242 million USD] 2.5 billion Dirhams will be made available through the Special Fund dedicated to managing the impacts of the earthquake (Fund 126), for immediate implementation.”

Donations also poured in from different countries. The French Foreign Ministry activated a fund that quickly received more than $2 million USD in pledges. Algeria opened its air space for medical and humanitarian flights.

The government of Korea pledged $2 million USD in humanitarian assistance. They have also indicated to the Moroccan government that they can deploy their medical personnel in the Korea Disaster Relief Team and send relief supplies if requested.

The Monaco Red Cross sent $106,000 USD to the “International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in support of the Moroccan Red Crescent.”

The government of Japan pledged $3 million USD. $1 million will be used by Japanese NGOs responding in Morocco, and $2 million was granted to the IFRC to support shelter and food.

More ways to help

CDP has also created a list of suggestions for foundations to consider related to disaster giving. These include:

  • Prioritize investments in local organizations: Local humanitarian leaders and organizations play a vital role in providing immediate relief and setting the course for long-term equitable recovery in communities after a disaster or crisis. However, these leaders and organizations are mostly under-resourced and underfunded. Grant to locally-led entities as much as possible. When granting to trusted international partners with deep roots in targeted countries, more consideration should be given to those that empower local and national stakeholders.
  • Take the long view: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that it will take some time for the full range of needs to emerge. Be patient in planning for disaster funding. Recovery will take a long time and while recovery efforts can begin immediately, funding will be needed throughout.
  • All funders are disaster philanthropists: Even if your organization does not work in a particular geographic area or fund immediate relief efforts, you can look for ways to tie disaster funding into your existing mission. If you focus on education, health, children or vulnerable populations, disasters present prime opportunities for funding these target populations or thematic areas.
  • Ask the experts: If you are considering supporting an organization that is positioned to work in an affected area, do some research. CDP and InterAction can provide resources and guidance about organizations working in affected communities.


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