As temperatures dip, Moroccan earthquake survivors say eco-camps are not enough

Villagers say that while the camps saved their lives and their dignity, they are now desperate to return home

A group of relief organisations set up an eco-camp a few weeks after the earthquake to house nearly 150 survivors of Kema village in Tigouga, near the Taroudant region in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Photo: Sanad Alajyal Agadir Charity
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Hafida Amaril lived through the devastating earthquake that killed about 3,000 people in Morocco in September.

The 6.8-magnitude disaster destroyed her isolated village of Kema in the country’s Atlas Mountains.

Ms Amaril, 33, a mother of three, has been living in a tent ever since.

A group of relief organisations have worked with authorities to set up an eco-friendly camp as an immediate, sustainable solution for Ms Amaril and the roughly 150 survivors from her village in Tigouga, near the Taroudant region.

Ms Amaril said that while the camp provided shelter to the village, they were now desperate to return home.

She told The National her daily routine was “pure torture”.

“Our lives begin when we enter our home, not when we leave it,” she said of the house in which she gave birth to all of her children.

“While the camp preserved our dignity, we still lack basic needs. The tents don't protect us from the freezing cold.”

The camp consists of 32 weather-resistant tents equipped with solar-powered lighting, four mobile bathrooms and four showers, all heated by solar energy and powered by solar lamps, Kamel Zine, a member of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, or the UOSSM, told The National.

They provide non-perishable food items, 150 blankets, beds, cleaning supplies and a 2.5km pipeline to deliver water to the village from a nearby spring.

“All the tents and water pipes used for protection from the rain and sun were sourced locally,” Mohaned Jaber, project manager of US-based Africa Relief, told The National.

For a number of days after the quake, survivors in Kema had no shelter until a group of relief organisations set up a temporary home on a small plateau in the mountains.

Even before the earthquake, residents of remote villages faced tough challenges and an isolated existence.

High-altitude settlements endured a harsh reality, with little access to basic amenities such as paved roads, running water and adequate healthcare and sanitation services.

Limited electricity supply and intermittent mobile signal disruptions cut them off from the outside world.

Ms Amaril and other women in her community do chores each morning, including feeding her sheep and foraging in the mountains for firewood. There are no gas cylinders in their temporary homes.

“We usually return with a few sticks to make a fire to cook for our husbands and children,” she told The National.

“We must eat everything we cook and all the canned food we open because we don't have refrigerators. There is no electricity here.”

‘We are freezing, despite the blankets’

When the earthquake hit, the residents of Kema welcomed any help they could get.

“The situation was painful for them,” Elbachir Abounnaim, head of the Sanad Al Ajyal Agadir charity, told The National.

Days after the quake, UOSSM members got to work with Sanad, Africa Relief, Ensemble Contrloubli and Idmaj Association to set up the eco-camp which served them well in the autumn months.

But months later, as the cold weather set in, the eco-camp was no longer enough.

Boujmaa Azeroual, 40, told The National that Kema villagers requested electricity from authorities weeks ago, but have not heard back.

“We don’t even know if our village will be rebuilt or if we will be relocated,” said Mr Azeroual, a father of three who walks 2km daily to their destroyed village, still hoping to salvage some of the belongings left under the rubble.

“We cannot accept living in the camp,” he said. “We want to return to the village where we grew up. Some have spent 95 years in the village, then suddenly found themselves in a tent.”

Camp life comes with may dangers. A few days before The National spoke to its residents, an 80-year-old woman gathering firewood near the camp was stung by a scorpion.

With no ambulance and the nearest hospital 25km away, the woman had to treat the open wound herself, burning it open to neutralise the venom.

The biting cold is “unbearable”, often falling below 0ºC in the winter, resident Hamid Boutament said.

“We are freezing, despite the blankets,” he told The National. “When it rains, the ground is wet and muddy, and the rain fills the tents even though there is a 10cm-thick wooden insulator.

“The solar panels worked in the summer, but with the fog and the overcast sky, there isn’t enough sun and we cannot recharge the lamps or even our mobile phones.”

Mr Azeroual said they travel several kilometres to charge their phones.

Holding back tears, Ms Amaril, who said she could write her own name, said her two daughters had stopped going to school.

The nearest primary school is about 7km from Kema, in mountainous terrain and with no transport.

“I sent my son away to live with his aunt so he can go to school,” she said. “I don't want my children to experience what happened to me. I want them to study and have a future.”

Sanad’s Mr Abounnaim hopes to build model eco-friendly houses for each family but said it could be a long time before they can secure the funding.

Updated: December 18, 2023, 3:00 AM