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Devastation in the Maghreb

Often at times I’ve known what to say when starting out an article, but I’m genuinely at a loss for words about what has happened this past week in both Morocco and Libya. Both have been catastrophic, the devastation that has been left behind is just incomprehensible as to why such a thing could happen. I haven’t even begun to make sense of it all, it simply is just saddening to its core to see the events going on. To the Moroccan and Libyan communities in Bath, whether in the university or living in the city our hearts go out to you and all those affected in the horrific tragedies.

The Tragic Events 

Morocco Earthquake

 Morocco was hit with an earthquake on the 8th of September and according to the Red Cross more than 2,800 people have died from the events thus far and a further 300,000 affected by what occurred in Al-Haouz’s province. For more context the quake itself reached 6.8 on the Richter scale, with 1 being the lowest and 9 being the highest. This is how destructive the quakes were, causing a rippling affect felt throughout; Marrakech, Rabat, Casablanca, Agadir and Essaouira. Some villages have been completely desecrated, which is beyond heartbreaking. To add to this the response team had to scurry away from the damage in Al Haouz on the 13th of September, due to aftershocks of the previous earthquakes, so the situation is still present and still dangerous. I can’t even begin to imagine how distressing what took place is for those impacted by it.

Numbers can sometimes be looked at as nothing more than a statistic rather than real life cases and in this harrowing instance when you put names and images to it, it becomes that much more gut-wrenching. Musa Bouissirfane who came from Tafeghaghte (a village not far from Marrakech) told ITV that he lost his whole family and his possessions in the tragedy. They were dug from under the rubble, just like many others were, including Idriss’ sister Nadia and his mother, Idriss has been left devastated by what happened telling reporter Sangita that his sister was his whole world. It is stories like Idriss’s that show that these are real people’s lives, and just because it is not directly happening before our own eyes, it doesn’t mean it’s not real. People’s lives have been ripped apart and this is something we can’t ignore. 

Floods In Libya

Two days following the initial events of the earthquakes in Morocco, unfortunately there was more devastation to occur in the north of Africa, in the city of Derna, in Libya. The Red Cross reported that due to heavy rains caused from Storm Daniel, the Wadi Derner River welled up and burst two dams. The numbers of how many have died are uncertain, with some reports coming from Al Jazeera stating that the number is around 11,300 while The Guardian says it could be up to 20,000. It is unclear to tell due to officials not having control over the situation. 

Husam Abdelgawi described what took place on that fateful morning to Al-Qubbah (cited by the BBC), saying he went downstairs to check on the barking dogs and felt water underneath his feet as he got to the ground floor. Upon opening the door, it was pulled off by the force of the oncoming water. When he ran to the backdoor with his brother they were met by an apocalyptic sight; “The bodies of women and children were floating past us. Cars and entire houses were caught up in the current. Some of the bodies were swept by the water into our house.” The brothers were also swept away in the flood but luckily managed to grab onto power cables and use it to climb into a building high up for safety. Some like Amna Al Ameen Absais also witnessed horror as with her siblings, she took them to rooftop for safety and they witnessed the building opposite them with their neighbours disappeared into the flood. The whereabouts of Amna’s uncle and his family is unknown. Similarly to the tragic events in Morocco, we must acknowledge the traumatic experiences that these people witnessed and will likely never forget, and therefore support them in their recovery.

According to experts speaking to Al-Jazeera,  corruption, a lack of infrastructural upkeep and political instability in Libya (what has been in essence a political civil war with rival factions vying for power),were significant factors in the flood becoming a reality . Derna’s Deputy Mayor Ahmed Madroud told Al-Jazeera exclusively that the dams hadn’t been maintained or worked on since 2002. I think what makes this sad is that while the danger may have started from natural means of a storm, this could have easily been prevented. Even if Libya just had a functioning weather agency, they could’ve at least warned people of the events that would unfold.

The International Response 

Morocco

In Morocco they are accepting aid from four countries: Qatar, the UAE, Spain, and the UK. While there have been offers from elsewhere, Morocco has decided against allowing more than the four countries stated to assist, as the government doesn’t want a disorganised unit responding to the earthquakes. Critic and activist against the Moroccan government, Maati Mounjib, argues that in this moment more relief is needed from outside. He told the BBC “This is not the moment to refuse because the aid is essential, even developed countries accept outside help [in disasters]”.

I think the most important thing is to make strides in rebuilding areas affected by the earthquake, and there is perhaps a glimmer of hope in the ideal of the government pledging to rebuild 50,000 homes and displaced children being put under state care. However, Sally Nabil of the BBC questions how quickly the government can provide the finance for these rebuilds, as there are many urgently in need of shelter, sleeping in the open air in the meantime. Another issue Sally picked up on is that there are many roadblocks due to all the rubble from the quakes making some areas difficult to transport aid. It is certainly a dire situation and not an easy task for the Moroccan government to deal with, and as Maati Mounjib suggested, further international assistance may be required.

Libya

The UN has appealed to the international community that $71.4 million is required by donors, on top of this food and medical assistance has been sent. I did also find that the UK government had offered £1 million in ‘life saving assistance’. I could not find much on the Libyan governments response except for the fact they’re calling it a natural disaster (which isn’t much of a response, or even a clear detailing of a plan). I think this is perhaps a clear indication of the lack of stability present within Libyan politics, and frankly, its people deserve more. They are hurting right now, and the government hasn’t done enough to address this. It’s all well and good for the rival factions fighting to gain power, but if they do not address the country’s infrastructure and help its people there will not a country left to govern.

What Can We Do

I think the first thing we can do is reach out to people that we may know that from Moroccan or Libyan backgrounds, and hope that no one they know is affected by what has occurred. 

The next thing is donating. I’m fully aware not everyone has the capacity to do this, you don’t always have to feel pressured into donating large sums. If you can donate, do it within your means. I’m sure even the smallest amounts will contribute to something good and if many have the mindset of giving a small amount, it can lead to a larger amount. I think it is good to investigate which charity you’re donating to as well, to ensure that your money gets to the people that need it as that’s the ultimate goal.

I think the final thing that we can do is continually spread awareness and shine a light on these situations. Unfortunately, Libya has never really received the coverage that it deserved during the politically unstable aftermath of the Arab Spring, and we cannot allow the same thing to happen today when we’re more informed. Morocco and Libya need our support in whatever way you can give it, so please do bare this in mind when going about your day.

My Final Thoughts

I really do hope that the victims of these events can be given their proper burial in due time, and that the ones who are still missing can be found alive. Both Morocco and Libya have beautiful cultures and wonderful people, we can only hope that they can rebuild from these events and eventually move on. I’ll reiterate as well to really take in the images in of what’s going instead of flicking by it. I think only then we can almost grasp the horrific magnitude of what’s gone on, and try to empathise with the situation at hand.

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