- Only today, the African Development Bank (ADF), the Norwegian government and the World Food Programme (WFP) announced new aid grants for the victims of the Moroccan earthquake. The reconstruction and humanitarian works following the Al Hoceima earthquake thus turns into one of the best financed post-disaster operations in a developing country as competing governments demonstrate their solidarity.
The 24 February earthquake hitting northern Morocco's Al Hoceima and outlaying villages measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. It left nearly 600 people dead, more than 400 injured, some 500,000 persons without shelter and livelihood and 35,000 children without school services. For the inhabitants of Al Hoceima, undoubtedly a terrible disaster had taken place.
Compared to other recent disasters, however, the Al Hoceima quake - despite the enormous suffering for those affected - was of a relative small scale. The Red Cross and Red Crescent - together with the governments of Spain, France, Algeria, the US, China and Japan - quickly offered help. Most however believed Moroccan authorities would be able to manage most of the post-disaster operations on its own.
A few days after the quake, anti-government riots and looting in and around Al Hoceima demonstrated that Moroccan authorities were not on top of the situation and that international aid had been too short-sighted. Since last week, therefore, a large number of international agencies and foreign governments have announced increased aid to the disaster victims.
Only today, the African Development Bank (ADB) today issued a statement saying its board was "highly moved by the magnitude of the disaster and the considerable loss of human lives and property that accompanied it." The Bank therefore had decided to provide, "through an accelerated procedure," an emergency grant of US$ 500,000 to the Moroccan government.
Also today, the Norwegian government announced a kroner 2 million (euro 230,000) extra grant to the Moroccan quake victims "following a request from the UN" and an earlier grant of the same amount. The grant was to be distributed via the Red Cross to set up temporary schools, Norway's Development Minister Hilde Frafjord Johnson today announced.
Yesterday afternoon, also the World Food Programme (WFP) announced the shipment of emergency relief worth US$ 200,000 to Al Hoceima. WFP, together with the UN's children agency UNICEF and the Moroccan government is to provide daily meals to some 16,000 school children and to provide food aid to some 1,300 families in the region.
- Our aim is to encourage families to send their children back to school and help them to cope with their losses, said Nicholas Oberlin of WFP, now stationed in Morocco. Also Ms Frafjord Johnson of the Norwegian government today emphasised on the need "to get the children back to 'everyday life' at school."
The new grants today follow massive international grants for the Al Hoceima region last week, shortly after the local discontent with the slow response to the crisis by the Moroccan government turned into violent acts.
Last week, the German government approved of an extra grant of euro 75,000 for two humanitarian aid projects in Al Hoceima, including the distribution of medicines to local hospitals. The French government announced a series of material shipments to Morocco, mostly aimed at giving temporal shelter to the many homeless.
The European Commission last week took a primary emergency decision for euro 975,000 for urgent relief to the victims of the earthquake in Morocco. This was "almost double the amount initially announced, reflecting the scale of the needs," according to the EU. The large EU funding is being used to help meet initial basic needs for medical assistance, drinking water, household utensils, hygiene products and shelter.
The US government and its Air Force have also announced a large-scale aid operation for the quake victims this week. The US Air Force is freely transporting food and other aid into Morocco. "Morocco is one of our closest friends and has long been an ally," Marine Lt Col Charles Brady explained the aid operation in a press release.
The most extensive grants have however been made by neighbouring Spain, which currently is seeking to improve its troubled relations to Morocco. In a series of grants approved during the last weeks, a total of euro 20.5 million is directed towards Morocco. Half of this is cancellation of Moroccan debts to Spain, made to enable the Rabat government to handle the economic aspects of the disaster and demonstrate its capacity in al Hoceima.
The international response to the quake victims in Al Hoceima thus is moving at an accelerated speed since the Moroccan government first made a bad appearance in the handling of the crisis. The massive support however seems to be aiming equally at helping the Moroccan government controlling possible unrests as helping the victims in Al Hoceima.
Rabat is currently enjoying a unique position of competing interests between the US, the EU and developing countries. The US and Morocco this week signed a free trade agreement, competing with the interests of the EU and of African and Asian desires to use Morocco as a bridge to trade with Europe.
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