On 8 September, 2023, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Morocco, the strongest earthquake the country has experienced in a century. The epicentre of the earthquake was the High Atlas Mountains, 71km (44 miles) south-west of Marrakesh with areas in the Marrakech-Safi region and Al Haouz, Chichaoua, Taroudant, and Azilal provinces being the most affected. Many buildings and some villages in the epicentre have been completely destroyed. As of 14 September, 2,946 people have died while the number of injured people reached 5,674, with numbers still expected to rise. The humanitarian need is immense with 380,622 people reported to be affected by the earthquake, including 100,000 children . The primary reported needs are food, water, mental health support, WASH, and shelter. Many people have been displaced from their homes and have resorted to sleeping outdoors Close to 600 schools have been damaged, causing protection issues for children, as school closures may increase their exposure to exploitation risks.
Causes of Earthquake and Humanitarian Crisis
Earthquakes normally are caused when tectonic plates move against each other. However, experts say that this earthquake was caused by a reverse fault, which occurs when the edge of the rock on one side of a fault slips under the other. Aftershocks will most likely occur weeks following the earthquake.
The humanitarian crisis in Morocco is compounded by several issues. The most severely affected areas in the epicentre are in mountainous areas that are difficult to access, with some areas only being accessible by foot or mule. The limited infrastructure in the area, such as paved roads, has been destroyed and access has been further hindered due to roadblocks created by rubble. The Amazigh people, an indigenous North African group who live in these areas, build their homes and other buildings from clay in accordance with their traditional way of living, with some areas having building codes that require the use of clay for aesthetic reasons These homes are susceptible to damage during climate events, especially an earthquake. Additionally, the Amazigh are a marginalised group, and the earthquake is further highlighting the inequity and marginalisation the Amazigh people experience. Limited economic and infrastructure development in these areas has made aid slow in reaching them. Historically, the Amazigh have had to rely on each other as absence of assistance from state authorities is common.
Support from the International Community
The international community has been quick to offer support in the form of financial aid and search and rescue teams. Offers of support have come from national governments and humanitarian organisations such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF). However, there are reports of the Moroccan government politicising aid as the government has only accepted aid from a small number of ‘friendly countries’ including Spain, Qatar, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. Tunisia, Algeria, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and the United Nations have offered support but their proposals have not been accepted. The Moroccan government denies allegations of politicising aid, stating that accepting all proposals of aid would be “counterproductive and chaotic” and did not want to cause more problems due to poorly coordinated aid.
Like many diaspora populations during times of humanitarian crisis, the Morcoccan diaspora around the world has been quick to mobilise to support humanitarian relief efforts. They are able to mobilise quickly due to networks previously created by Moroccan diaspora organisations that provide cash and non-cash support to Morocco on a regular basis. One France-based organisation, Action Solidarité Développement Sanitaire & Social d’Idergane (ASDSSI), was able to raise €12,000 Euros to donate to their local partners who are at work in Taroudant province. The funds were used to purchase food, blankets, and materials to build emergency shelters. There have also been media mobilisation efforts, with the Director General of the France-based Moroccan diaspora organsiation Migrations & Développement giving a radio interview on the situation in Morocco to RTL, a French radio station. In Germany, the diaspora organisation Deutsch-Marokkanisches Kompetenznetzwerk (German Moroccan Skills Network) is preparing to deploy Moroccan diaspora experts in relevant fields, such as medicine and social work.
While many Moroccan diaspora organisations are offering support, individuals within the Moroccan diaspora are also mobilising support. Youssef Koutari, a French entrepreneur with Moroccan roots, created a GoFundMe with a colleague to raise funds for three ambulances. They have already sent medicine to local partners in Morocco. Members of the Moroccan diasporain New Jersey, USA held a fundraiser and supply drive, with funds being donated to the Zakat Foundation, a US-based, Muslim-run charity that supports humanitarian relief efforts around the world. There is also interdiaspora support as people from non-Moroccan backgrounds are donating to Islamic organisations that are supporting relief efforts such as Islamic Relief and Muslims around the World Project (MATW).
Universities societies have also worked to provide humanitarian support to Morocco. THE LSE Moroccan Society shared a GoFundMe created to support SOS Villages d’Enfants, a children’s organisation. They also shared information on where in Morocco people can donate blood as there was a need for blood donations in the aftermath the earthquake. The North African Society at Queen Mary University of London is supporting a GoFundMe fundraiser for Morocco Children’s Trust, on the ground in Morocco to provide aid to vulnerable families and children.
Humanitarian organisations should work together with the Moroccan diaspora as relief efforts continue. Their knowledge of the country, culture, language and customs, especially in the High Atlas Mountain areas, will be an invaluable asset recovery and rebuilding efforts in the weeks and months ahead.