Morocco's earthquake is a call to action

Friday's disaster killed more than 2,000 people and left destruction that could take years to recover from

A woman infront of her earthquake-damaged house in the old city in Marrakesh on September 9. AFP
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It's considered Morocco's worst earthquake since the 1960 devastation in the western coastal town of Agadir that killed an estimated 15,000 people and injured thousands more. Another 600 or so were killed when another disaster struck in 2004. Even as earthquakes have wreaked destruction in the North African country in the past, this most recent one could take months, if not years, for it to recover from, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has cautioned.

On Friday night, the 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck in the Atlas Mountains and exacted a cruel toll, one that is still rising: at least 2,012 people have been confirmed dead and thousands injured in Marrakesh and in regions to the south. In the 72 hours since, hundreds of people in Morocco have slept in open spaces, camping by the roads and streets, understandably fearful of returning indoors. Mouhamed Ayat Elhaj, a resident, said: "I returned to my house and noticed many cracks in the walls. I cannot sleep there." People are also worried with reason about tremors and aftershocks, which add to the trauma and damage where earthquakes occur.

In Morocco's hour of need, and as the country is in three days of mourning, world leaders expressed condolences to King Mohammed VI and his people. They also banded together, as is appropriate for the international community, to organise and send aid. President Sheikh Mohamed ordered an air bridge to be opened on Saturday to enable the relief effort. A similar air bridge in February enabled the UAE to send 260 flights with aid for the Turkey-Syria earthquake, which saw huge destruction and claimed 50,000 lives.

Other world leaders, many of whom were gathered in New Delhi for the G20 summit, also sent condolences and messages of support, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. Pledges came promptly from several countries in the Middle East, including Jordan, whose authorities said it will send aid flights. Algeria opened its airspace for the first time in two years so that flights could carry assistance. Additionally, the US, UK, France, Germany and Spain said they were preparing emergency aid.

Unfortunately, as any country that has experienced natural disasters knows all too well, the aftermath endures for a long time. Even as humanitarian instincts unite and propel foreign aid to be rushed into Morocco, the suffering of people is immense and not easily healed. Those who've lost loved ones, perhaps under the rubble, have to grapple with not just their own sorrow – conducting absentee funeral prayers for family members – but also with strained financial circumstances, as the local economy falters and disrupts livelihoods.

A major driver of the local economy is tourism, which is gravely affected as villages were flattened and Marrakesh, a famous World Heritage site, assess the extent of damage to its historical landmarks. The Kharbouch Mosque's minaret, on Jemaa El Fna square, has been badly damaged and the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, a Unesco heritage site from the 12th century, has had substantial cracks.

In the coming days and weeks, as the country fully assimilates its loss, the international community must continue to exercise compassion. It must not forget that the thousands of people in Morocco – who have overnight been robbed of family and homes – will need a steadying hand as the country begins the slow and painful process of getting back on its feet.

Published: September 11, 2023, 2:00 AM