Morocco, three months after the earthquake: “Winter is approaching and we are still in plastic tents”

A young man holds an elongated wooden and metal shovel tightly. After a cold night in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the midday heat and a clear sky causes a waterfall of sweat to fall on his face. He hums as he crawls. Among the mountains of rubble with blankets, sofas, some televisions and children’s magazines, he manages to reach remains of metal, steel or other pieces of iron that he will save to sell. Three months ago, the remote village of Imi N’tala collapsed following the worst earthquake recorded in Moroccan history. The silence of its mountains has crushed hope. Only a sweet hum remains.

At the end of the spit of land that separates one side of the village from the other, both collapsed, a group of women take shelter under the shadow of one of the few buildings that remain standing. They exchange recipes and preview the feast that will accompany them at mealtime. A few meters away, dozens of blue and yellow tents are strategically placed on the edge of the cliff.

Not one more fits. “For now, this is where we have to live,” says Rashida, one of the earthquake survivors. Several scars and wounds on her fingers and a bandaged wrist on her wrist remind him of the worst of her shaking. “It was very strong. We still have fear in our bodies,” she adds.

In mid-November, more than 3,300 Moroccan families with houses partially damaged by the earthquake began to receive compensation of 80,000 dirhams, equivalent to just over 7,000 euros. Financial aid provided by the Government of Morocco for the restoration of their homes.

On the other hand, the owners of completely destroyed houses will still have to wait. For these, the Moroccan Government estimates compensation of 140,000 dirhams, almost 13,000 euros, which it has not yet begun to distribute. According to a government report, of the total number of villages located in the southern provinces of Marrakech, Al Haouz, Chichaoua, Taroudant, Ouarzazate and Azilal, 35% have reported damage to buildings.

From concrete to hard plastic

A green esplanade welcomes you in Tafeghaghte. Some olive trees, blooming and healthy, create a grateful shade. The sun is shining. There is not even a cloud. Shamia shrugs her shoulders. How long will we have to wait? “Not even God knows,” she answers. Shamia lives alone in one of the thousands of blue tents that have outlined the Atlas landscape for three months. During sunny hours, her house is an oven. At night, 20 centimeter thick blankets are not enough. But the worst thing is the rain, she says. Shamia has no home, but she maintains hospitality. “I have to invite you to tea,” the septuagenarian proposes.

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“We are on the verge of winter and we are still in these hard plastic tents,” says Shamia. Although during the months of October and November the temperatures at night are not so cold, the beginning of the year brings a time of cold, wind and rain in the region.

Three months after the earthquake, international aid continues to arrive. From Spain, for example, the NGO Firefighters United Without Borders has carried out a second expedition with material aid such as food kits, water tanks and solar lamps for the tents.

24 kilometers from the epicenter of the earthquake, Tafeghaghte was one of the most critical points during the hours following the tremor. Of a total of approximately 120 houses, none remain standing and the dead exceeded 150 people, as well as more than 200 injured. A large part of the deceased lies in an improvised cemetery that has doubled its size since last September 8, the day of the earthquake.

A religious and cultural loss

In Tinmel, among the landscape of the remains of the houses and buildings that collapsed during the earthquake, a mountain of whitish stones more than five meters high stands out. Four young people analyze each of the remains of rubble stone by stone. Some fall on another mountain to the right. A few steps behind the young people, the minaret of the Tinmel mosque and several walls of the religious temple have collapsed.

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The Tinmel Mosque dates back to the 12th century, specifically it was built in 1148 by the Almohad dynasty, a year after the capture of Marrakech. This hidden place in the High Atlas Mountains was one of the starting points of the Almohad military campaigns against the Almoravid dynasty. Along with the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca, Tinmel was one of only two Moroccan mosques open to non-Muslims.

Nine months ago, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs began a restoration project on the Tinmel mosque that included the opening of its own museum on the cultural building. After the earthquake, economic efforts will be greater.

Tourism at two speeds

“On the night of the earthquake there were four couples of foreigners staying in the hostel. Since then, no one has returned,” says one of the managers of one of the few hostels in Tizi n’Test, one of the highest points of the Moroccan Atlas.

A large terrace on the first floor of the building, which fortunately remains standing, opens up unique views towards the Souss-Massa region. “We are losing money. Tourists only stop by to have tea or eat a tagine, we can’t let people sleep inside the building. We cannot guarantee that it is in good condition,” says the manager.

The reality is different in other cities affected by the earthquake, but which are an irrefutable mecca for Moroccan tourism. This is the case of Marrakech. There, the influx of tourists returned to normal numbers a few days after the earthquake. According to the latest data from the Moroccan Tourism Office, the country received 960,000 international travelers in September 2023, 8.5% more than in the same month in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, between January and September, international travel to Morocco increased by 44% compared to the same period in 2019.

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