Morocco’s quake survivors must rebuild their homes and lives. But decimated communities can do little to help
Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Khadija Ait Si Ali was just starting to rebuild her life when the earthquake struck. Her husband died in a road accident seven months ago. They had been married for less than a year and she was five months pregnant.
“I was planning to start looking for a job in two or three months,” she told CNN, standing in the rubble of Tinzert, a tiny village in the Atlas Mountains that was leveled by last Friday’s quake.
“I thought that’s all I needed. But now I need a house. Because we don’t have a house.”
Ait Si Ali and her 3-month-old baby have few options for help; everyone else here is also dealing with their own circumstances. “My mother lost her house. Everyone in my family lost their houses. My husband’s family’s house is almost gone,” the 26-year-old said.
It’s a common story in this remote, rugged area of Morocco. Most people here live where they were born, where their ancestors have lived for centuries. Family is never too far. When the devastating earthquake struck the region, people’s vital support networks collapsed along with everything else.
The sheer number of people who have lost their homes means that, even a full week after the disaster, many are still without shelter, surviving out in the open under makeshift tents made of blankets or pieces of tarp.
With the winter approaching these mountainous villages soon, the recovery and rebuilding needs to start immediately.
Amal Zniber runs the Moroccan educational charity Amis Des Écoles and has spent the past week distributing aid around the region. She said that due to the generosity of people from across the country there is now enough food and water, but waste is becoming a problem.
“We need find ways to get rid of the waste and figure out how best to supply kitchens, toilets, showers (and) sleeping arrangements that are compatible with local culture and customs,” Zniber told CNN.
In the village of Tafeghaghte, about an hour and a half southwest of Marrakech, Abdu Brahim told CNN his family is still trying to find ways to stay warm and dry.
“We need a tent and something to cook in. The dew makes everything wet in the morning. I need a tent for my children and my father, he is very old,” he said.
Abdu Brahim and his wife Hanan Ait Brahim have spent the past few days sifting through the pile of rubble that used to be their home.
Their 7-year-old daughter was killed in the earthquake, alongside her aunt, uncle and cousin who lived in the house next door.
The couple tried to salvage anything they could from the rubble, sorting their dusty, damaged possessions into piles. Clothes and shoes. Kitchen items. Blankets and mattresses.
“I am just trying to organize it all to see what we have and what we need,” Hanan Ait said.
They worked methodically, in silence. At one point, Hanan Ait came across pencils and chalks that belonged to her daughter and tears started flooding her eyes.
The 51 people killed by the quake in this 500-strong community have been buried on the edge of the village. Their graves are one reason why Abdu Brahim said he cannot imagine leaving Tafeghaghte, despite the devastation.
“Our life is here. We have land here, we have animals here,” he said. “When I think of all of the happiness in my life, it’s all here,” he added. He told CNN he was determined to rebuild a home for his family.
“Little by little,” he said. It took him 20 years to build the house first time around; now he is starting from scratch, without the support of his brother.
The Moroccan government announced Thursday that people whose homes were completely destroyed will be eligible for 140,000 dirhams ($14,000) in assistance. Those with partially damaged homes will be eligible for 80,000 dirhams and everyone else who was impacted by the quake will receive 30,000 dirhams.
Abdelkarim Ait Amkhaine’s home in the nearby town of Ouirgane was destroyed in the quake and he has spent the past few days sleeping in a tent. He told CNN the financial assistance would be a significant help for people living in the mountains.
“140,000 dirhams is a reasonable amount to be able to rebuild a home. It is the minimum requirement to build a modest home,” he said, adding that his house is so badly damaged it will have to be torn down and cleared away before any new construction can start.
It’s not just the enormous physical damage that is hurting people here.
Khadija Ait Si Ali said she can still hear the terrible sound of the earthquake. “You cannot imagine how strong it was… A horrible noise, like something was exploding, but I didn’t know what. Like there was a war, but it wasn’t a war. Believe me, I thought it was the end of the world,” she said.
The moment keeps coming back to her. “During the day, we are OK, but believe me, at night, it’s scary. It’s very scary because that night, everything was OK and suddenly it happen(ed). And I am afraid it will happen again. Even when I am very tired, I can’t sleep, I keep waking up. I am up at 11, I am up at 12, I am up at 1, I am always waking up, waiting for it to happen,” Ait Si Ali said.
Dr. Adil Akanour has seen this in a lot of his patients in the past few days. Akanour is a psychiatrist who has been deployed to a field hospital in Asni, a town also in the Atlas Mountains, alongside therapists and social workers.
“There is a huge need (for psychological support), and, thankfully, much more recognition of the need than in the past,” Akanour told CNN in the field hospital’s psychiatric tent. A military doctor, he has experience in disaster and conflict zones.
“People need to process the situation but we also try to help them prepare for the future, because it will take a long time to recover,” he said.
The rebuilding might take a lot longer than many of the victims can imagine. The United Nations said that six months after February’s devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, more than 9 million people are still in need of support. According to data from Action Against Hunger, of the 3 million people who fled their homes because of the earthquake in Turkey, 1.5 million are still living in temporary settlements.
Akanour saw dozens of traumatized patients in the first few days after the earthquake. Fatme Akia Nayet, an elderly Berber woman whose village was badly impacted, has been repeating the names of all the people she knew who have died. Every time someone entered the hospital tent she was resting in, Akia Nayet started again.
Mariam Maroi, a 22-year old woman who was badly injured in the earthquake and then pulled out of the rubble, does not remember anything from the night of the disaster. Whenever she tried to speak, she began to cry.
Others were angry about the situation. In Moulay Brahim, a village not far from Asni, tensions were running high last Sunday, as the community kept waiting for official help to arrive. At one point, stones flew through the air, as an argument between two groups of people from the village reached boiling point.
Back in Tinzert, Khadija Ait Si Ali said that for now, she was just trying to focus on her baby and get through each day.
“When it just happened, I knew I had to take my baby out of the house… She was in her bed and as I was getting to her, the house was falling in front of me. I lost my husband and I am looking at my baby and I am so afraid I will lose her too. She is all I have,” she said.
Ait Si Ali said she felt lost with nobody to turn to. “I was planning to start looking for a job. But now I don’t know what to do. I am just waiting,” she added.