Please note that some people may find the information and images below distressing.
Every Spring we bring the human geography students on our 2nd year BA(Hons) Geography programme to Morocco, to practice their fieldwork skills. Since 2011 we’ve visited important sites in the city of Marrakech, and built a close working relationship with the community of Imlil village in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, including meeting local residents and their families. When in the area, our students study the challenges of living in this mountainous environment.
Unfortunately a rare but devastating example of such challenges occurred on Friday Sept 8th 2023, in the form of a terrible earthquake that had its epicentre close to Imlil. We know that our former and current students will want to know about how the area has dealt with the impact. So over the past few days we’ve been checking that our community partners are safe, the extent of the damage, and – most importantly of all – what we can do to support Imlil’s people.
Here’s what we know so far. Our main contacts in Imlil and Marrakech – Ahmed, Ibrahim, and Hasan – are safe, as are their families, although there has been damage to their homes and daily life has been turned upside down. Damage in the mountain villages in the area is extensive. Asni – the market town that we pass through en route to Imlil – has been badly affected, with many casualties and collapsed buildings. In Imlil village itself, people’s homes and guest houses have been damaged – but there has only been one reported death. Other communities in surrounding valleys have been devastated and the death toll is, sadly, very high.
Communications are difficult – with no electricity there is no phone or internet signal. The road to the mountains has been made completely impassable for vehicles, and efforts are focused on moving the debris to enable search and rescue and to get vital supplies and temporary shelters to get to the mountains. For many people walking the 20km from Imlil to Asni was the first step, if only to get a signal to contact family and ask for help.
Relief efforts are underway, with temporary shelters being set up. These are communities whose isolation means they have developed strategies for dealing with adversity, albeit not on this sort of scale and without specialist equipment. Community associations pull people together to help and support each other. Some innovations include crowd-sourced maps to indicate how many families need help, so those living in cities or less affected areas can channel help appropriately.
While the focus now is on rescue and ensuring basis needs are met, efforts will be turning to ensure homes are rebuilt before the winter – a very challenging season in the Atlas Mountains. Extensive damage to roads, irrigation channels, and the numerous guest houses will need to be repaired to rebuild residents’ livelihoods.
If you’d like to make a donation to support Imlil and surrounding villages, a fundraiser has been launched by a local businesswoman Seleena Johal in conjunction with the Imlil region president. We really encourage you to contribute – even small amounts will go a long way in the area, particularly when it comes to providing emergency supplies like food, water, medical supplies and clothing. Seleena’s accompanying blog has further information about the impact of the earthquake and the community response.
We’ll try to provide you with more updates from the area in future. The impacts of events like this don’t just go away when they fall out of the news cycle. Imlil and Marrakech face years of tough recovery ahead. So our friends in Morocco will stay in our thoughts, and we hope they’ll stay in yours too.
Written by the Morocco field trip team – Dr Nick McGlynn & Prof Becky Elmhirst