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 have been 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. At least 380,000 people were affected.
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.
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. Aftershocks are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
According to the palace, at least 50,000 homes were damaged.
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.
What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, September 25
What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, September 18
How to help Morocco’s earthquake survivors
What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, September 11
- 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.”
- 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.
- On Sept. 18, NGOs were concerned about the pending rain and its impact on both survivors and the possibility of increased landslides.
- 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 Sept. 20, but it is felt that this is still not an accurate count, as search and recovery efforts are ongoing.
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.”
There was a call for blood donations, and citizens turned out in high numbers.
Moroccan authorities are leading 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 are providing 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.”
Until there is an international appeal, organizations providing support services must already have a presence in the country. It is uncertain if Morocco will ask for assistance. 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 reports that the government hasn’t shared much information, and some Moroccans on social media are criticizing 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 has 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 killed as of Sept. 12, were found buried in rubble. The government has responded to criticism that they are not taking all the offered assistance by pointing out the logistical challenges in moving large numbers of people to remote and rural villages. They feel that they have 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.’”
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.”
Thousands of homes were destroyed by the earthquake. Many people are sleeping outside, either because their home was damaged or destroyed or because they are afraid of aftershocks. They are using tarps and cloth to protect them from the elements.
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. Homes have either collapsed or display cracks that make them dangerous. Families with small children sleep in the open, with hardly a blanket to protect them as the nights are already chilly. 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 is also very concerned about the rural and remote communities. Their assessments were conducted 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 states 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.”
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 are more than 2,000 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 require blood products and medical supplies or put a strain on facilities with limited numbers of staff. Health care professionals from across Morocco will be coming to 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.
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 the potential to affect two major economic activities. First is tourism, especially in cities like Marrakesh and 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, restaurants 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 is the second most impacted area. Drought has already caused wildfires and reduced harvests. There are very limited opportunities for the agricultural sector overall. 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 do not feel they have 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.
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 and government support
Governments around the world were quick to express solidarity and offer assistance, including human, logistics, supply and financial resources. Morocco has not issued a broad call for international assistance but has 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 $3,000 per affected households, about $3,900 for collapsed homes and $7,800 for damaged houses. ones.
Donations are also pouring 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 is providing $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 is sending $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.
“Direct Relief is working to help route needed supplies to Morocco. Among the donations in process, in coordination with a local manufacturer and The High Atlas Foundation, are 20,000 units of requested nutritionals for affected community in Morocco. The High Atlas Foundation has a long history of working in Morocco’s mountainous communities near the epicenter of the earthquake. Direct Relief is also supporting Bomberos Unidos Sin Fronteras (United Firefighters without Borders) with an emergency operating grant of $100,000. The NGO, based in Spain, is conducting search and rescue efforts in Morocco at the request of the Moroccan government.”
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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