Snow in Moroccoʹs Atlas mountains
Calling the King to account

This yearʹs bitter weather conditions, characterised by unusually heavy snowfalls in the Atlas mountains, merely highlight the Moroccan governmentʹs neglect of its poorest regions and the rural Amazigh community. By Matthew Greene

On 15 February, Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani recognised the efforts of rescue teams targeting remote rural communities in the High and Middle Atlas Mountains besieged by the countryʹs heaviest snowfall in over 50 years. Othmani praised the "invisible heroes" – doctors, nurses, members of the military and transport workers for bringing emergency relief to the more than half a million Moroccans affected by severe winter storms that left several dead.

The Ministry of Interior revealed in a separate statement that the mobilisation provided direct humanitarian assistance to an estimated 370,000 people, including health services and emergency helicopter evacuations. According to figure released by the Ministry of the Interior, winter relief aid has been issued to 52,000 families since November 2017.

Isolated: with fatal consequences

However, communities affected by the snowstorms denounced the governmentʹs management of the situation, criticising the lack of anticipatory measures and the response capabilities of local and regional authorities.

"People are isolated, roads are blocked, farmers can no longer feed livestock," residents reported.

Several villages held demonstrations demanding the re-opening of roads and the arrival of help, as the blockade raised concerns over dwindling food, heating and medical supplies. In the worst hit areas snowfall exceeded 2 metres, while temperatures dropped to lows of -15 degrees Celsius.

While harsh weather is a familiar feature of winter for Moroccans living in the rural Atlas mountains, the  severe snow storms this year isolated nearly 1200 villages, leaving them without access to roads, electricity and clean water for up to one week. Several fatalities were the result.

On 30 January, an ill woman in Azilal province died aboard a makeshift stretcher as villagers made a desperate attempt to carry her to a nearby hospital. The incident, which was recorded on a camera phone and shared on social media, highlighted just how isolated some areas are. In Midelt province, at least 4 deaths were reported, including a young man who was found frozen to death. In another case, a woman was killed after the roof of her home collapsed under the weight of snow.

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