Some trace the situation back to Moroccoʹs colonial period when France designated its protectorate into a "useful" zone and remaining lands that encompasses much of the Atlas mountains today. Images of inhabitants traversing rocky mountain paths starkly contrast with Moroccoʹs glamorous urban development projects and popular tourist destinations. The country ranks 123rd on the global human development index.

Amazigh bear the brunt

Meanwhile, Amazigh rights activists believe the division is also a continuation of the stateʹs ongoing discrimination against Moroccoʹs Amazigh communities, many of which are concentrated in the Atlas highlands. They accuse the state of expropriating traditional tribal lands, exploiting natural resources like timber and silver in the process and neglecting to reinvest the profits into social and economic projects.

Mouhcine, 11, enjoys sledging on snow covered mountains in Tighanmin, a Middle Atlas village near Azilal, central Morocco (photo: AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
Childish pleasure belies the severity of the situation: bitter temperatures and heavy snowfall beleaguered several regions in Morocco during January and February, disrupting schools, cutting off villages and national highways. The effects were felt most keenly in the remote villages of the Middle Atlas region. Where once the hostile mountain range protected local Amazigh tribes from attackers, they now isolate villages during winter, often for months on end

"The officials in this country are prepared to discuss any subject that benefits them, but are not at all ready to talk about the subject of wealth, of minerals and the Amazigh in the mountains," commented Amazigh writer Montasir Ithri in an op-ed written on 7 February.

Such projects, pro-Amazigh voices say, would mitigate the challenges posed by the winter months and avoid possible future humanitarian catastrophes. When this yearʹs snowfall started to blanket the Atlas, some Amazigh organisations were already fundraising for emergency aid to distribute to the beleaguered communities in the Atlas.

"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 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."

Matthew Greene

© 2018

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