It was not until 7 February, following instructions from by Moroccan King Mohammed VI, did the government announce its emergency mobilisation programme. According to El Othmani, humanitarian relief will continue over a 3-month period with assistance from the Red Crescent and other agencies to distribute supply packages containing basic food items, blankets and livestock feed.

Rescue efforts cannot hide socio-economic grievances

Although El Othmani described the snowfallʹs arrival as "unexpected", the episode has once again exposed the underdevelopment in the rural enclaves of the Atlas Mountains. Critics claim that the bitter weather conditions merely highlight the governmentʹs neglect of these regions, who have earned a reputation for being left in the cold without the basic necessities required to endure the winter, often with fatal consequences.

In the winter of 2006/2007, more than 20 children from the High Atlas village of Anfgou died as a result of the cold and snow. Four years later, harsh winter conditions claimed another 11 lives from the same village, including a week-old baby.

Fatima, 39, chops wood to take it back home for warmth in Tighanmin, a Berber village in the Middle Atlas, near Azilal, central Morocco, on 14.02.2018 (photo: AP Photo/Mosaʹab Elshamy)
Rural areas in the High Atlas chronically underdeveloped: "as people die daily from cold, hunger and a lack of medicine, the Amazigh cannot afford to wait until spring to receive help," said an organiser of one of the emergency aid campaigns. "We would like to see King Mohammed VI allocate some of his wealth and state resources to these suffering regions to try and put a stop to this crisis that seems to occur every winter"

Nearly 40% of Moroccoʹs rural population lives below the poverty line, meaning that many families do not have the means to cope with severe winter weather.

"The purchasing power of the population is very low; for some even buying wood for heating is becoming impossible," Said Ahbar of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights explained to Yabiladi news, when describing the difficulty villages in rural Midelt province faced this month.

These regions also suffer from inadequate infrastructure such as poor roads and a lack of electricity and clean water. Municipal governments say they do not have the budgets to cope with emergency situations, although residents commonly complain of corruption and the misappropriation of state funds.

The Moroccan government has introduced infrastructure projects to the Atlas in recent years, however an estimated 60% of rural Moroccans may have only a limited access to electricity, sanitation and water, says the World Bank.

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