Understanding the Morocco Earthquake and the Ongoing Relief Initiatives

In the town of Amizmiz, near Marrakech, Morocco, on Sunday, September 10, 2023, people are reclaiming a washing machine from their home that suffered damage during a devastating earthquake. This earthquake has brought widespread destruction and suffering to Morocco, with the death toll rising and rescue efforts underway to retrieve both survivors and casualties from villages reduced to rubble.

Law enforcement and aid workers, both from Morocco and international organizations, have descended upon the region located south of Marrakech, which bore the brunt of the magnitude-6.8 earthquake that struck on Friday night, followed by several aftershocks. Residents are in dire need of basic necessities such as food, water, and electricity, while massive boulders now obstruct steep mountain roads.

Here are the key details:

**Most Affected Areas:** The earthquake’s epicenter was in the highlands of the Atlas Mountains, approximately 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of Marrakech in Al Haouz province. This region primarily consists of rural areas characterized by red-rock mountains, picturesque gorges, and sparkling streams and lakes. For individuals like Hamid Idsalah, a 72-year-old mountain guide from the Ouargane Valley, the future is uncertain. Idsalah’s livelihood relies on tourists, Moroccan and foreign alike, who visit the region due to its proximity to Marrakech and Toubkal, North Africa’s tallest peak, a popular destination for hikers and climbers. He remarked, “I can’t rebuild my home. I don’t know what I’ll do. Nonetheless, I’m grateful to be alive and will wait,” as rescue teams navigated the rugged valley roads for the first time over the weekend. The earthquake affected a large part of Morocco, causing injuries and fatalities in other provinces, including Marrakech, Taroudant, and Chichaoua.

**Who Was Affected:** As of Sunday evening, the reported death toll stood at 2,122, with 1,351 casualties in Al Haouz, a region with a population of approximately 570,000 according to Morocco’s 2014 census. The residents in this area predominantly speak a mix of Arabic and Tachelhit, Morocco’s most common Indigenous language. Villages built into mountainsides with clay and mud brick have been decimated. Despite tourism contributing to the local economy, the province is primarily agrarian. Prior to the earthquake, Al Haouz was grappling with a severe drought that had dried up rivers and lakes, putting the agricultural economy and way of life at risk. Abdelkadir Smana, an 85-year-old resident near a destroyed mosque in Amizmiz, expressed that the disaster exacerbates existing challenges in the area, which had already been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the drought. He lamented, “Before and now, it’s the same. There wasn’t work or much at all.”

**Aid Providers:** Morocco has mobilized ambulances, rescue teams, and military personnel to assist with emergency response efforts in the affected region. While some international aid groups have arrived to provide assistance, the government has not issued a broad appeal for help and has accepted only limited foreign aid. The Interior Ministry announced that it would accept international aid focused on search and rescue operations from Spain, Qatar, Britain, and the United Arab Emirates, bypassing offers from French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. President Joe Biden. Biden expressed readiness to assist the Moroccan people during his visit to Vietnam, saying, “We stand ready to provide any necessary assistance for the Moroccan people.”

**Historical Significance of Marrakech:** The earthquake caused damage to parts of the walls surrounding Marrakech’s historic old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to the 12th century. Videos showed dust rising from the Koutoubia Mosque, one of the city’s renowned historic landmarks. Marrakech is Morocco’s most popular tourist destination, known for its palaces, spice markets, tanneries, and Jemaa El Fna, a bustling square filled with food vendors and musicians.

**Comparison to Previous Earthquakes:** While the earthquake on Friday was the strongest in Morocco in over a century, it was not the deadliest. Just over six decades ago, a magnitude-5.8 earthquake struck Morocco’s western coast, resulting in the deaths of over 12,000 people and the collapse of the city of Agadir, southwest of Marrakech. This event led to changes in construction regulations in Morocco, but many buildings, especially rural homes, are not designed to withstand such seismic activity. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there had been no earthquakes stronger than magnitude 6.0 within 310 miles (500 kilometers) of Friday’s tremor for at least a century. Northern Morocco experiences earthquakes more frequently, including magnitude 6.4 tremors in 2004 and 6.3 in 2016. In other parts of the world, such as Syria and Turkey, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake earlier this year claimed more than 21,600 lives. The most devastating recent earthquakes have had magnitudes above 7.0, including the 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed over 8,800 people and the 2008 quake in China that claimed 87,500 lives.

**Next Steps:** The emergency response efforts are expected to continue as teams work their way through mountainous terrain to reach the hardest-hit villages. Many communities remain without essential supplies, including food, water, electricity, and shelter. However, the challenges faced by the hundreds of thousands who call this region home are likely to persist once aid organizations and military personnel depart. Members of the Moroccan Parliament are scheduled to convene on Monday to establish a government fund for earthquake response at the request of King Mohammed VI.

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