On September 9, as Morocco’s High Atlas mountain region was reeling from the impact of the 6.8-magnitude earthquake that struck at 11:11 p.m. the night before, I landed in Casablanca and made my way to Marrakech, about 45 miles northeast of the epicenter, to attend an annual travel conference. The massive tremor has left nearly 3,000 people dead at the time of writing, and at least 5,500 injured, according to Morocco’s Ministry of the Interior. And the figures are expected to rise.
The epicenter of the quake was in the Al Haouz province, an area of particular natural beauty, with red earth, pine-covered mountains, and clear rivers popular with hikers and trekkers. Many of the hardest hit areas, where villages have been reduced to rubble and houses flattened, are in remote, hard-to-reach places, making rescue and relief efforts even more challenging.
The quake also rocked Marrakech, causing damage to some parts of the Medina, the city’s historic quarter. Many residents chose to sleep outside in the immediate aftermath, too afraid to return indoors for fear of aftershocks and unsure if their homes were safe. In the two days following the earthquake, the air was filled with the almost constant sound of sirens as ambulances transported injured to the city’s hospitals.
Now, just days later, there’s a keen sense in the city that, in spite of the tragedy, life has to go on. In addition to trying to get their daily lives back on track, there is a huge citizen-driven push to support the relief efforts. The streets are busy, debris has been cleared, and shops, hotels, and restaurants have reopened their doors.
Many Marrakech residents rely on tourism directly or indirectly, and they are worried about the effect the disaster will have on visitation. Taxi drivers, shop owners, and hotel staff have all told me in the past days that they fear media reports will scare visitors away just as the tourist industry was recovering from the impact of COVID.
Prior to COVID, tourism made up 12 percent of Morocco’s GDP, and the industry was seeing a strong recovery in 2022, with close to 10.86 million tourists coming to the country last year, a recovery rate of more than 80 percent compared to 2019, according to data from the World Tourism and Travel Council.
Mike McHugo, owner of Kasbah du Toubkal, cofounder of Education For All, and involved in tourism in Marrakech since 1978, highlights the importance of tourism coming back when the time is right, based on the tangible impacts it has had in some of the poorest areas of the country.
“The buildings in Imlil, the village where Kasbah du Toubkal is located and a trekking center, are virtually untouched and have largely stood up to the earthquake,” McHugo told Afar. “This is a village that has benefited from tourism money, leading to people having the ability to build more modern houses and infrastructure. Tourism has indirectly improved the lives of the local population.”
For those with upcoming travel plans to Morocco, the hope here is that rather than cancel, travelers who don’t feel comfortable coming now, will simply postpone to a later date. The reality on the ground is that the vast majority of the country has been unaffected—Morocco is a large country, approximately the size of the state of California. Popular destinations like Casablanca, Tangier, Rabat, and the desert areas have not been affected by the earthquake (while the shaking was felt farther afield, these areas didn’t suffer any severe damage). It will take time for the High Atlas mountain areas to recover. But even in Marrakech, with the exception of some riads [a traditional Moroccan home with a courtyard, some are now small hotels] in the Medina, hotels are welcoming guests, restaurants and rooftop terraces are busy with residents and visitors, and shops are open, and Marrakech residents are keen to welcome visitors back. If you’re planning on visiting in the next weeks and months, be sure to get the latest regarding the current situation from your travel provider and hotel.
Those trying to communicate with a travel company or hotel in Marrakech, bear in mind that some businesses may be slow to respond as residents deal with the physical and psychological toll of the earthquake and its impacts. If it takes a while to get a response, a bit of patience and empathy will go a long way. While there’s definitely a sense of “business as usual” on the ground, the people of the region have been through a terrifying experience, and are still feeling it.
How to help Morocco right now
There are many organizations on the ground—both international groups and local ones—supporting disaster relief efforts in the affected communities. Gaining access to the more remote villages situated near the epicenter of the earthquake has proved challenging, and it is taking time for some areas to receive adequate support. Here’s our vetted list of organizations that are currently working to provide aid and relief to the affected communities.
To donate: intrepidfoundation.org
Intrepid Foundation, the charitable arm of global tour operator Intrepid Travel, is matching all donations to its Morocco Earthquake Appeal up to $64,000 and is covering 100 percent of the administration costs. The appeal is supporting Education For All, an organization that enables girls in rural communities to continue their education by building and running boarding houses near secondary schools, and the High Atlas Foundation, a Moroccan association and U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works in the Atlas Mountains on a number of community-designed development initiatives. Both organizations are currently supporting affected communities by providing those affected with supplies, food, water, and shelter.
“The generous support to our emergency appeal is allowing our two long-term partners, Education for All and the High Atlas Foundation, to provide much-needed emergency relief to families and communities in the worst affected areas,” Intrepid Travel’s Morocco-based managing director EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) Zina Bencheikh told Afar. “Many in these hard-to-reach mountain communities have lost their homes and livelihoods, and both partners are helping to support them through this incredibly tough time.”
World Central Kitchen
To donate: wck.org
Founded in 2010 by chef José Andrés, nonprofit organization World Central Kitchen (WCK) produces and distributes fresh meals in response to crises, working with local chefs and community partners, including Amal Non Profit, a Marrakech-based training school teaching professional-level cooking skills to women under the guidance of experienced chefs and helping them secure jobs in the local food sector. WCK is currently using helicopters to deliver food and water to hard-hit areas in the High Atlas region and is assisting with evacuations.
“The situation in Morocco is difficult and there are many remote areas without access, so we are delivering food via helicopters and assisting with medical evacuations on the way back. That is what WCK is about: community, and constantly adapting to help as many people as possible,” Sam Bloch, WCK’s director of emergency response, told Afar.
Chef José Andrés, founder of WCK, posted this video on his Instagram showing one of their helicopter pilots improvising and landing on a switchback of road cut off by a landslide, enabling the team to reach and serve people where no other helicopters have been able to land.
Artists for Morocco
To purchase art for donations: artistsformorocco.com
Artists for Morocco was established the day after the earthquake hit by GQ Middle East editor-at-large Samira Larouci, photographer Anass Ouaziz, and designer Ismail Elaaddioui, who joined forces with 26 Moroccan photographers and artists to raise funds for critical on-the-ground assistance. Photographers donating prints include Hassan Hajjaj, Mous Lamrabat and Yoriyas Yassine Alaoui, and all sale proceeds will be going to Amal Non Profit, and the Rif Tribes Foundation, an NGO [nongovernmental organization] working to bring aid and support to affected remote villages. The print sale ends on September 30.
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
To donate: donation.ifrc.org
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have launched an emergency appeal for $112 million to scale up relief efforts for the Moroccan Red Crescent to provide immediate and medium-term temporary support to those in need, including healthcare, clean water, sanitation, hygiene, shelter, relief items, food, and household essentials. Moroccan Red Crescent teams are working with Moroccan authorities to assist search and rescue operations, provide first aid and psycho-social support, help transport injured to hospitals, evacuate people from damaged buildings, and provide food and water.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
To donate: doctorswithoutborders.org
Also known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Doctors Without Borders has teams on the ground assessing medical humanitarian needs. Their teams are working with local authorities and communities to support medical care in the affected areas, as well as identifying ways to support the long-term mental health care of victims.
Travel Link Foundation
To donate: travellinkfoundation.org
Morocco-based NGO Travel Link Foundation is providing immediate, essential relief and emergency supplies to severely affected villages in the Atlas Mountains, as well as installing temporary shelter and lighting for affected communities.
The Eve Branson Foundation
To donate: globalgiving.org
The Branson family has long had a presence in Morocco, through Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson’s resort in Asni, a small village in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, and El Fenn, an art-filled riad hotel in the Marrakech Medina co-owned by his sister Vanessa Branson. Their mother’s Morocco-based nonprofit, the Eve Branson Foundation, is supporting relief and recovery efforts in the Asni valley, initially supplying families with food, fuel, clean water, medicine and shelter. The fund will then transition to focus on recovery efforts to help rebuild houses, provide stable infrastructure for roads, school, and public buildings, and support efforts to restore cultural tourism programs.
Many hotels, restaurants, and events companies in Marrakech are also sending food and other urgently needed supplies to the affected villages.