MOROCCO EARTHQUAKE - 13 September 2023

"Many roads are still impassable"

Katharina Ebel is an expert in programme development and humanitarian aid at SOS Children's Villages in Germany (SOS Kinderdörfer weltweit). She was on holiday in Morocco when the devastating earthquake occurred there, killing more than 2800 people so far. She immediately cut short her vacation and is now supporting her colleagues on the ground with emergency aid. In this interview, she explains how SOS Children’s Villages in Morocco is helping children and families.

How did you experience the earthquake?


I was on holiday in Morocco. I had just gone to bed in an old, simple fisherman's house right on the beach south of Agadir when suddenly all the dogs started barking like crazy. A few seconds later, the whole house swayed. I had never experienced an earthquake before and at first I didn't know what was happening to me. When I realized what was happening, I ran out of the house like everyone else. Everyone was very insecure.

What did you do then?

I looked at the sea. I looked to see if the water was retreating. I was afraid of a tsunami. But the sea remained calm. I still wrote to my family that I was fine. When my heart palpitations subsided, I couldn't see any cracks on the building and I didn't feel any aftershocks, I went back to sleep.

And what do you do now?

Of course, I immediately broke off my vacation and went to the SOS Children's Village near Marrakech. From here, I supported my local colleagues in reaching those most severely affected by the quake as quickly and well as possible with emergency aid.

When does the aid start?

Right away! SOS Kinderdoerfer weltweit is providing 100,000 euros from an emergency fund. Among other things, this will be used to finance food, tents, hygiene items, medicines, blankets, clothing and financial support for the earthquake victims. The psychological care of traumatized children and their parents should also be made possible in this way. A few days before the earthquake, I was still hiking in the worst-affected area myself. Many people who live there are very poor, some are nomads, and medical care was already precarious before the quake.

How is the aid coordinated?

Many roads in the mountains are still impassable, and the military has cordoned off many areas to coordinate aid and provide first aid. But our local employees have already been able to penetrate some of the worst-affected areas and get a first impression. They know what is most needed now. We have already started to procure the relief supplies and load trucks.

What do your colleagues report from the earthquake area?

They’ve seen a lot of completely collapsed buildings and talked to desperate people. Since there is hardly any heavy equipment in the area and many roads are impassable, the rescue of the buried victims is very difficult. People are extremely frightened. Even those who still have houses often sleep outdoors for fear of aftershocks.

Is there still hope of finding buried people alive?

Hope fades with each passing hour. In the affected areas, temperatures of up to 35 degrees prevail during the day, and it gets cool at night. I don't think you can survive under rubble for three days without water under these circumstances. Since most people were already asleep when the earth shook and were therefore buried under the rubble of their collapsing houses, I unfortunately assume that the number of confirmed fatalities will rise sharply in the next few days.

Will SOS Children's Villages continue to support earthquake victims in the long term?

We have many years of experience and expertise in reconstruction in earthquake-affected areas. Among other things, we will take care of the repair or new construction of destroyed schools and, until then, supporting the education of children until their schools are rebuilt. In addition, we have a lot of experience in coping with trauma and will support children and families with psychosocial services in coping with this terrible experience.

Many children lost their parents in the quake. Will SOS Children's Villages in Morocco have to build more facilties?

Traditionally, children who lose parental care in Morocco are taken in by relatives. We will support these families financially, but also with psychotherapeutic help. It is good if children have as much continuity as possible after traumatic experiences. The placement in a children's village would only happen if no one can take the child into their home. That's why I don't think we need to build a new facilities.

Many countries, including Germany, have offered their support, but Morocco initially only wants to accept help from Spain, Qatar, Great Britain and the United Arab Emirates.

Is SOS Children's Villages allowed to help at all?

The government and the military are relatively well positioned. Also in order to be able to coordinate the aid well, they apparently want to limit the number of actors involved. SOS Children's Villages can and may nevertheless make an important contribution to emergency aid and reconstruction now and in the long term. We have been in the country for 43 years with currently 162 employees. We speak the language, know the local conditions and current needs and are registered in Morocco as a local aid organization. But in order to be able to help locally, we urgently need donations from all over the world.

The interview was conducted by Philipp Hedemann, a journalist based in Berlin.

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