In Morocco, civil society bears burden of aid after the earthquake: ‘We don’t know how to care for the wounded’

The foothills of the Atlas Mountains are full of camps where people struggle to get by while the state continues to decline most offers of international aid

Un vecino de la zona de Uirgan observa los efectos del terremoto en su calle.
A resident of Ouirgane observes the effects of the earthquake in his street.Jalid Kani
Juan Carlos Sanz

Dozens of ambulances rush, sirens blaring, along the road that connects Amizmiz, in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, with Marrakech. Throughout its 27 miles (45 kilometers), there are endless caravans of private vehicles transporting humanitarian aid for the victims of the earthquake that struck southern Morocco around midnight on Friday, killing over 2,100 people, injuring another 2,400 and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Convoys of Armed Forces vehicles transporting heavy machinery also make their way through the winding roads of the valleys, while the Gendarmerie clears the routes that were blocked off by the landslides.

But on the second day after the largest earthquake registered in the North African country, it is civil society that seems to be largely taking care of the victims.

Omar Aid Ben Naim, 60, an employee at an air conditioning company, now runs the makeshift camp made with tarpaulin and awnings where 65 families have slept in the open for the second consecutive night in a park in the neighborhood of Ashun. He proudly displays the cards indicating the names of each of its members, which help organize the distribution of food. All eyes were on him this Sunday.

“They have given us milk, bread, canned sardines and cheese, but we still don’t have blankets,” laments Buyata Achafar, 45, worried about the six members of her family. “We don’t know how we’re going to spend the night, the temperatures drop earlier in the mountains, but thank God, we’re still alive,” she explains with resignation as she prepares to bake bread with a group of women in a portable gas oven that a man from Agadir has donated. In Amizmiz, a town of 60,000 inhabitants with several outlying villages, around 100 deaths have been registered so far, even as Marrakech firefighters continue to search for possible survivors. A bruised woman was rushed by ambulance to the Marrakech hospital. The body of a man trapped under the rubble of his home was taken directly to the cemetery, covered by a blanket.

No international rescue teams

Camps like the one in Ashun dot the roads in the province of Al Hauz, the most badly affected by the earthquake (with more than 1,300 deaths) due to its location in the epicenter of the quake. But, unlike other disasters of this magnitude, there are no specialized international rescue teams in sight. The initial rescue work, which is key to finding survivors, has been done almost exclusively with Moroccan resources. The government of Rabat has so far only authorized help from teams from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, the United Kingdom and Spain. Countries like the United States, France, India and Israel have signaled their willingness to send aid as well.

In Amizmiz, there is a shortage of nearly everything. “We have water, fortunately, and electricity and telephone lines,” acknowledges Omar Aid Ben Naim. “But for now we only have four Red Crescent tents. And we don’t know how to care for the wounded.”

Hasan Shamemy, 43, was working at a café in the city when the building collapsed on him. “He was trapped for almost seven hours in the rubble without showing any signs of life,” recalls Saida, his 35-year-old wife, holding their two-year-old daughter in her arms. A five-year-old boy never leaves her side for a moment.

“We feared the worst, but four hours later the Marrakech firefighters arrived with their dogs and began to dig with their hands until they were able to locate him. He was still breathing, but his entire chest was crushed,” she says. Still, he was soon discharged from the Marrakesh hospital to make room for more serious cases. This past Sunday, he was dozing on a mattress under the effects of painkillers. His family was saved by immediately going out into the street when the violent shocks of the earthquake began to be felt. “We have lost everything, but we are still together,” says Saida with an air of resignation.

Moroccans continue to search for survivors with the few means available to them. At camps like the one in Ashun, some people worry about their flock of sheep lost in the mountains. Others are concerned about injuries that have not completely healed. Rayan, 12, declares himself happy not to have to go to class this Monday. “I want to be like Iniesta,” he says, wearing the shirt of the Spanish soccer player. Together with his three brothers, he is enjoying an unexpected vacation right at the beginning of the school year. “Until the structural safety of the school building can be verified, classes will remain suspended,” says Omar, the man who takes care of everything at a camp where the solidarity of those in need is on display and almost everything is shared, while people patiently await official aid.

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