Six months on, Morocco's quake victims grapple with trauma, displacement and poverty

Six months on, Morocco's quake victims grapple with trauma, displacement and poverty
Last October, they tried to march to Marrakech to protest the aid delay. Authorities stopped the march by promising imminent solutions. They are still waiting.
4 min read
19 March, 2024
People walk amid the rubble of destroyed buildings in the earthquake-hit village of Douzrou, in central Morocco on 13 February 2024. [Getty]

Like everyone in Amezmiz, a Moroccan quake-hit village located about 60 kilometres south of Marrakech, Yamna is still trying to navigate grief, loss, trauma and displacement six months after a 6.8 magnitude earthquake reduced her home and the rest of the region to rubble.

In front of yellow tents, Yamna and her neighbours are preparing an Iftar meal and reminiscing about lost relatives—those who didn't make it out from under the rubble—a few meters away from the ruins of their once-called homes, now unrecognisable. 

"Fadma used to love eating this sweet in Ramadan," said Yamna as tears fell on her cheeks in memory of her late daughter, who died with her son in a nearby village in the earthquake. Her neighbours joined in the obituary of their dead beloved ones. At least 3,000 people died in a devastating earthquake that hit last September. 

Everyone here has lost a loved one, but today, their biggest worry is the ability to afford a liveable life for their remaining families. A belated promised aid and complicated bureaucracy are their key burdens.

"Every day, they tell us the aid will be distributed soon. It has been six months, and we are still waiting," said Yamna as she continued crafting the flowers like sweets.

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Like some of the other 57,600 families affected by the earthquake, Yamna's family receives 2,500 dirhams (around US$250) monthly in state aid—an amount that barely covers the costs of food.

Meanwhile, several other families and individuals still have received any compensation, apparently due to bureaucratic procedures.

"I haven't received anything because the address on my ID does not match the address of my house in Amezmiz," said Houria, another resident of the camp.

A widow and mother of three minors, Houria is the only holder of an ID in her household. Her procrastination on making the long journey to the police station to change the address on her identification card before the earthquake has cost her the little yet necessary aid.

"Without the generosity of my neighbours, I wouldn't be able to feed my children," added Houria, who says her income before the disaster was from a suing machine that was destroyed and remains under the rubble.

According to ReliefWeb, 500,000 people were displaced on 8 September 2023, and 60,000 homes, many of which had represented decades-long traditional Amazigh buildings, were destroyed or damaged. Today, they live in plastic tents, using bathroom stalls and eagerly waiting for a few hours of electricity at night.

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On Sunday, 17 March, Morocco's Prime Minister Aziz Akhennouch said a total of 51,300 families have received financial assistance for the reconstruction and were able to rebuild homes that partially or completely collapsed during the earthquake.

The government reconstruction plan has yet to make its presence felt in Amezmiz, where living under flimsy tents seems permanent for the community.

Last October, they tried to march to Marrakech in protest of the delayed aid. Authorities stopped the march promising imminent solutions. They are still waiting.

The situation has pushed several young villagers to leave their homeland for Marrakech to fend for their families.

"There's nothing left for us here. We have to leave for the city; we can't keep waiting for aid forever," said Khalid, a 16-year-old kid with a broken football stardom dream after he was injured during the quake. He now works as a tourist guide in Marrakech city on weekends.

Al-Hajj Ahmad, a 70-year-old man, sat in front of a mosque tent observing the scene in disapproval. "We can't leave our ancestors' land and lose hope in God's mercy. This month is an occasion to get closer to God," he said, addressing Khalid and his friends who were in the middle of a football match.

Amid the quake tragedy, many like Al-Hajj Ahmad have found shelter in faith and religion, spending most of their days reading the Quran and praying for forgiveness and mercy in a small tent-turned-mosque.

"Even if Akhennouch (Morocco's PM) forgot us, God will not, Ayssehel Rebbi (God will make it easy)," he added, cheering the kids as they entered the mosque to pray the Al-Maghreb prayer.