On Friday 9 September, at around 11 o’clock at night, Morocco was struck by a powerful earthquake, which, according to the US Geological Survey, had a magnitude of 6.8 on the Richter Scale. The epicentre was near Oukaïmden, about 75 kilometres south west of Marrakesh. Thousands of people have lost their lives in a disaster whose impact was worsened by the criminal neglect and incompetence of the regime.
The earthquake was so strong that it shook cities hundreds of kilometres away from its epicentre, including Fez, Casablanca and Rabat, whose residents spent the night in the streets and parks. Indeed, the Algerian Civil Protection Service confirmed that the residents of seven Algerian states felt the earthquake that struck Morocco on Friday evening.
The US Geological Survey has indicated that there have been no earthquakes of this magnitude within 500km of this location since 1900.
The precise number of dead, missing and injured is not yet known for sure, but what is certain is that the toll is very heavy. The only source of information is the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior, which announced during the first hours after the quake that 632 were killed and 329 injured; only to return, at around 10 o’clock the following morning, to report that 820 were killed and 672 wounded. Today, the figure stands at over 2,800, and it is still rising.
Of course, nobody trusts the official figures. In a statement, the director of the Moroccan Red Crescent in Marrakech said: “We cannot know the number of people trapped under the rubble of the earthquake”. If this is true of Marrakech, the modern tourist city, then what can be said of isolated, remote villages, some of which are almost completely wiped out?
An eyewitness (a resident of the mountain village of Asna, near the epicentre) told Al Jazeera: “Most of the houses there were damaged.” This is confirmed by videos posted by residents on social media.
The steadily rising number of dead and wounded from the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior is not intended to inform the public. Rather, the aim is first to give the impression that the situation is under control, and to gradually prepare the masses to accept the real, staggering numbers, for fear of igniting the anger that is accumulating under the surface of society.
The official media, in turn, carries out “special coverage”, by transmitting testimonies and conducting dialogue with “experts” and “specialists”, during which most emphasise the strength of the earthquake; “God’s will and destiny”; the “effectiveness” of the security authorities, and the “speed” of their intervention.
What the official media strenuously avoids are any questions about the competence of the authorities, the reasons for the large number of deaths, and why entire villages are still deprived of medical and food aid, with victims still under the rubble.
While many governments, including those of Algeria, Russia, China and Iran, France, the United States, the Gulf states, etc. expressed their “condolences” to the Moroccan people and “willingness” to provide the necessary assistance, the King of Morocco – who never misses an opportunity to immediately congratulate football players for every victory they achieve; nor to send telegrams of celebration or condolence to the politicians and monarchs of the world on every auspicious occasion – took more than 18 hours before issuing a statement.
In fact, he is currently on an extended vacation in France. Many international media outlets contend that he is not only unable to rule, but does not even want to rule. All he wants is to enjoy his autumn years organising trips and celebrations.
Despite eventually declaring a three-day state of mourning, the delay was perceived as a show of contempt for the suffering of countless victims in the kingdom. Meanwhile, the Moroccan government also took its time in issuing any official comment regarding the tragedy. This was no accident. It was obliged to wait for the King’s reaction before it was permitted to speak, so as not to steal His Majesty’s spotlight and arouse his anger. This farce only deepens the impression of a bankrupt and helpless regime, and serves as a slap in the face to the Moroccan people who have to endure this catastrophe.
Despite the horrific rise in the death toll and the great suffering of the wounded and displaced, the authorities are criminally slow in facilitating aid, refusing assistance from all but four ‘friendly’ nations. Rest assured, this has precious little to do with resisting imperialist influence, and far more with protecting the battered prestige of the regime. Ironically, France claims that Morocco is refusing offers of aid, despite the King of Morocco currently holidaying in the country!
Solidarity from the masses
Major tragic events bring out the best in people, as the masses, especially young people (unlike their rotten government) rushed to provide assistance to those affected, rescue the wounded, utilise primitive means to assist those detained under the rubble, and share what medicine and food was available.
An eyewitness told Al Jazeera: “Our neighbours are under the rubble, and the people are working hard to save them using the means available in the village.” Blood transfusion centres in all cities also witnessed a huge number of people who wanted to donate blood, not only Moroccans, but also foreigners who are in Morocco for tourism or work.
This is further evidence of the falsity of the claim that humans are selfish by nature. What makes people selfish and plunges them into a brutal fight for survival are the horrific conditions imposed on them by the capitalist system, built on greed and the relentless pursuit of profit, under which whomever stops to catch their breath is crushed underfoot.
Who is responsible?
Earthquakes are natural disasters, their causes are known and humans have no hand in their occurrence. But their impact is not natural at all. Many of the dead so far, and those who will be confirmed dead in the coming hours and days, could have been saved. But the capitalist system has other priorities. At the top of these priorities is ensuring the profits of a minority of capitalist parasites and enhancing arms budgets instead of funding hospitals, civil defence agencies, and emergency response resources.
In this context, we point out that the Moroccan government has raised the 2023 defence budget to a record level of nearly 120 billion dirhams, an increase of 5 billion over 2022. The healthcare budget amounts to only 28.12 billion dirhams, or about 6 percent of the general budget, very far from even that recommended by the World Health Organisation (12 percent) as well as the global average (10 percent).
If there were earthquake-resistant homes, modern infrastructure, advanced forecasting centres, and sufficient investment in medical services, then the human cost of this earthquake would not be nearly so high. But the reality on the ground is that workers and poor people in cities are forced to live in old, crumbling, overcrowded houses; and peasants, in their systematically marginalised villages, are still forced to build their homes with mud and wood, just as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. Not to mention the lack of medical services, drinking water, roads, and other basics.
It should be noted that the authorities, as stated by eyewitnesses, insist on “preventing the residents of villages from building using modern methods” so that they remain appealing to tourists, eagre to experience their ‘quaint, traditional charms’. This caused an increase in the number of victims, as professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University in the US, Mehrdad Sasani, confirms:
“The cheaper mud-brick houses that predominated throughout the villages increased the risk of fatalities during an earthquake.
“Residents and experts of the affected region have long pointed to neglect by the state, particularly a lack of basic infrastructure across Al Haouz. These types of structures are very brittle, meaning they don’t have the capacity for flexibility and movement required during an earthquake, meaning they would crumble.”
In addition, he said, the clay-type material used to build homes increased the suffocation risk for inhabitants trapped under the debris, as when the homes collapsed it did not allow for any air pockets that could allow survivors to continue to breathe.
“These homes have heavy walls that carry the weight of the roofs. When these come down, it leads to a higher likelihood of casualties,” he said.
Everyone knows that the first moments after an earthquake are crucial in saving lives and treating the wounded; and the longer the delays, the fewer can be saved. There are still thousands of victims, including children, under the rubble, suffering terror, pain, and hunger. The youth are trying to save them, but they only have their nails, spades, axes, and other improvised means.
The responsibility for their terrible suffering and death lies with this criminal, corrupt, and indifferent regime. What happened and what will happen over the next few days is a massacre caused by decades-long neglect, and the policies of the capitalist system that put profit before human lives.
A deluge of demagogic propaganda will gush forth, calling on Moroccans to “stand united behind His Majesty and institutions”, in the face of this disaster. The regime will repeat their hypocritical slogans about how “we are in the same boat” and so on, and of course they will call for a solidarity fund… which will be filled with deductions from the wages of workers and employees, as happened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Incidentally, no one knows where all that money collected went and how it was spent.
We have heard all this before, in the same tone, in the same words, and from the mouths of the same people. And what was the result during the pandemic? Millions of Moroccans fell into poverty, and were subjected to layoffs and repression at any sign of protest, while the wealth of the capitalists, the King, his family, and their clique around them, reached new heights.
The palaces did not collapse because they were built with the latest technologies. What fell were the dilapidated shacks and housing in the working-class neighbourhoods and villages. Those who suffer from hunger and homelessness today are workers and peasants, not the owners of major companies, princes, princesses and generals. They have not been subjected to any harm. On the contrary, they are still selling food, gas and medicine at very high prices.
No, we are not in the same boat. There is a huge class gap between the parasites who live by exploiting our labour power and plundering the country’s wealth, and those who are exposed to exploitation, austerity, starvation, and unemployment. And now we are being exposed to death because of the criminal policies, greed, and indifference of the elite.
Therefore, in the face of their hypocritical calls for “national unity,” we must call for class unity between workers and the poor, to struggle against this system that oppresses us.
What is certain is that, even after the aftershocks stop and the dead are recovered, the suffering of the masses in the affected areas will continue, given the massive rise in homelessness, the dangers of living in damaged homes, and the absence of medical care, as well as repression of any attempt to protest against these conditions.
Thousands of innocent people have died and will die because of the criminal policies of the regime, which subjects healthcare and social services to austerity; turns the lives of millions into permanent torment; and when they die, treats them with contempt.
The people are now in shock, mourning, and panic. This is normal. We, the workers and all the toilers, share their grief and offer our solidarity. But we are also angry, and after we heal our wounds, the time of reckoning must come.
They tell us that we will return to “the previous normal conditions”, but the previous era was one of poverty, unemployment and oppression, especially among the youth. Moreover, there is no possibility of returning to that “previous era”. UN figures estimate the number of those affected at 300,000. The United States Geological Survey estimates that the cost of damages arising from the deadly earthquake could be as high as 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. And we are the ones who will have to pay all that bill, just as they forced us to pay the bill for their system crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The suffering will continue for years to come, exacerbated by corruption, plunder, and indifference on the part of the regime. We can be confident that the current shock will turn into anger, and anger will turn into class struggle.
These tragedies must come to an end. It is necessary to fight for a another system, one that makes human life, well-being and happiness for the majority of society the highest priority; one that invests in health, education, infrastructure and adequate housing, instead of arms, destruction and repression; a system devoid of exploitation, greed, and criminal indifference to human suffering.
We must fight for a socialist system in which power and wealth are in the hands of the producers themselves. That is, a system based on a nationalised planned economy, run in a democratic manner for the benefit of the whole of society.
Then it will be possible to provide adequate housing, infrastructure, healthcare, and other basic services to everyone without exception; as well creating infrastructure that can stand against natural disasters. This is the only way forward. The struggle for such a society is the only adequate tribute to those innocent people who have fallen.