Amin walks along the edge of a cliff, amid the dust raised by cars in their wake, in the High Atlas of Morocco. Next to him, a donkey carries a bag of blankets on one side, and a couple of jugs of water on the other. They both walk to a sloping hill, inaccessible to cars and vans carrying humanitarian aid, and begin to climb.
Villages reduced to rubble: satellite images show earthquake destruction in Morocco
“This is the only donkey I have left, I have lost the rest,” he tells elDiario.es. Amin, 76, is one of many Moroccans who use donkeys and donkeys as a means of transportation. After the tragic earthquake on September 8, these animals are essential to access the most remote villages, where aid arrives in dribs and drabs.
But now, there are many fewer. “If it is difficult to evaluate the people who have died, imagine the number of animals,” says Susan Machin, director of Jarjeer Mules, the largest rescue organization for equines, vertebrates of the horse family. Additionally, it is one of the few charities that is registered in the United Kingdom in association with the kingdom of Morocco.
“We have worked here since 2014. Over the last week we have responded to the consequences of the earthquake and our shelter has also been affected,” adds Machin in statements to elDiario.es. He also highlights that there is a lot of work to be done and that the consequences could worsen in the coming months.
“We have been able to access some areas, but there are still remote villages where aid only arrives through helicopters,” he warns. Precisely, on September 16, more than a week after the earthquake, the Moroccan authorities found a group of five shepherds who had been left incommunicado with their livestock in the High Atlas mountains.
The rescue teams, who arrived by air, provided them with health care and food so that they can continue caring for their animals.
“The death of animals in the mountain towns will be serious because they depend on them to be able to work. They are the main means of transportation and subsistence,” says Machin.
Animals under the rubble
Beyond donkeys, animals such as cows and goats have also been severely affected. In some corners of the Atlas such as Tafeghaghte, the smell of animal carcasses under the rubble of houses and stables is strong, which has motivated the use of sanitary masks to prevent respiratory infections among earthquake survivors.
Malika spent the weekend in Tafeghaghte. Some members of her family are among the almost 3,000 killed by the earthquake, while the survivors now reside in a tent, outside what was formerly her home.
Tied to a tree, two goats reveal the wounds of the earthquake. “My brother-in-law rescued them from the rubble. They were trapped from the waist down and we had to feed them and give them water as best we could so they survived,” he tells elDiario.es. Malika insists that both animals are a source of food for the entire community. Goat milk is one of the essential ingredients in traditional Moroccan cuisine.
According to the International Goat Association (IGA), in North Africa, goat farming plays a fundamental role in mountainous and inaccessible areas. In the case of Morocco, around 46% of this type of livestock farming is concentrated in the Atlas, which translates into about 570,000 animals, according to the latest data, from 2017.
The herds in this area of the Atlas have a double purpose: on the one hand, to provide protein and income for local populations, through milk and meat; On the other hand, they provide fertilizer to improve agriculture. The latter is essential for planting vegetables, which feed rural communities.
Since the country shook, social networks have been flooded with the solidarity and mobilization of citizens, in favor of those who have a voice and also those who cannot ask for help. From the first moment, the Moroccan animal welfare association, Morocco Animal Aid, has used its Instagram account to make visible the consequences of the earthquake on animals, especially dogs and cats, and livestock in general.
The group was created in 2016 as a result of the merger between two animal NGOs: Ims’One, from the town of Imesouane, and MAA, from Tamraght. A representative of Morocco Animal Aid, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells elDiario.es that the problem goes beyond the sudden death of these animals: “A considerable number of people have experienced profound losses as mothers, fathers or children. “This will make it increasingly difficult to maintain the animals still in their care.”
Without a home, and some, without a source of income, many inhabitants of the Atlas will not be able to take care of the financial expense involved in caring for animals.
Even so, more than ten days after the earthquake, precise data is lacking and uncertainty reigns. The representative of the NGO assures that there is no official data on the total number of deceased animals and points out two reasons: on the one hand, the organizations have been divided between different geographical areas of Morocco, so they cannot offer a global number; Furthermore, she believes that government authorities lack the capacity to track animal deaths under the circumstances.