GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 746, 14 September 2023

Morocco: Devastating earthquake kills thousands
Fadel Senna, AFP

In the news
On 8 September, Morocco was hit by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake whose epicentre was in the Atlas Mountains. More than 2,900 people have died and 5,600 people have been injured.
On 9 September, the Royal Office of His Majesty King Mohammed VI issued a statement which instructed to “immediately set up an inter-ministerial commission in charge of carrying out an emergency rehabilitation and aid program to reconstruct as soon as possible the destroyed homes in the affected areas.”
On 9 September, US President Joe Biden stated: “My administration is in contact with Moroccan officials. The United States stands by Morocco and my friend King Mohammed VI at this difficult moment.”
On 9 September, the head of the African Union Commission stated: “I learnt with great sadness of the tragic consequences of the earthquake that hit the kingdom of Morocco.” 

Issues at large
First, a brief background and the lack of preparedness. The epicentre of the earthquake was in the western Atlas Mountains in the south of Marrakesh in the province of Al Haouz. According to the US Geological Survey and Morocco’s National Institute of Geophysics, the depth was eight kilometres to 26 kilometres. It was caused by “reverse fault,” which occurs when tectonic plates collide resulting in the thickening of Earth’s crust. The stress caused by the fault lines induces earthquakes.
The damage caused by the earthquake was unusually large considering that the magnitude was not that high. In February 2023, the earthquake in Syria and Turkey had a larger magnitude of 7.8. According to seismologists, North Africa is moderately prone to seismic activity. The damage was mainly due to a lack of disaster-resilient infrastructure in the region. The region is largely rural and the buildings are made of masonry and particulate matter such as gravel or sand which is highly prone to collapse. Additionally, most hit areas of the country were impoverished areas with already existing poverty, hunger, and malnutrition which has exacerbated the economic and human loss. Additionally, such remote areas are left to cope with the disaster on their own.
Second, the slow response and resistance to foreign aid. The Moroccan government has been criticised for a delayed and slow response. The official statement of the royal office came after a day of the earthquake that buried thousands of people. According to the New York Times, there were no rescue operations over the weekend. Rescue efforts started on 11 September after the help started flowing in. The government has been irregular and tight-lipped regarding the rescue operations and updating the death count. It has failed in disseminating critical information in the public sphere.
Additionally, the government has been criticised for not allowing international aid to step in. So far, teams from the UK, Spain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been allowed to carry out search and rescue operations. Other countries including Tunisia, Algeria, France, Germany, Italy, and Canada along with the UN are waiting for the government to allow them to carry out rescue operations. The Moroccan government quoted by Al Jazeera that the acceptance of aid from four countries initially is a decision that was made “based on a precise assessment of needs on the ground” and poorly coordinated aid “would be counterproductive.”

In perspective
First, an increase in the frequency and intensity of disasters. Decades ago, an earthquake of such a magnitude used to be a rare phenomenon. However, disasters are increasingly frequent and require effective early warning, preparedness, management, and response. A lack of efficient disaster management will further increase losses.
Second, the need for loss and damage funds. Globally disasters are on the rise but the response depends on the capability of the country to respond to disasters. Not every country or region is equipped enough to manage the disaster. Loss and damage funds would be a help to vulnerable and less developed countries to seek help in addressing disasters and recover from the losses caused.

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