Libya and Morocco: two very different responses to catastrophe

Natural disasters


Rupert Neate with Peter Beaumont

The aftermath of an earthquake in Morocco and flooding in Libya has shown up the state of the two nationsFri 15 Sep 2023

Not one but two disasters have struck in recent days – the earthquake in Morocco and devastating flooding in Libya.

At least 2,900 people are known to have died in the 6.8-magnitude earthquake that struck in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains a week ago, and the authorities say the death toll will rise.

Three days later, on 11 September, intense flooding in Libya led to the collapse of two dams that unleashed a torrent of mud and water into Derna, destroying large parts of the eastern city.

On Friday morning, the Libyan Red Crescent said the number of people who had died in the city had risen to 11,000 and was expected to rise further as rescue teams arrived and helped to retrieve more bodies from the mud. Officials said 30,000 people were missing.

The full scale of the disaster may be far greater, as few international aid agencies or news reporters have been able to reach the flood-hit area. This area is controlled not by the government in Tripoli but by a rival warlord.

A family shelters near a damaged building in Targa, Morocco
A family shelters near a damaged building in Targa, Morocco. Photograph: Jalal Morchidi/EPA

Morocco and Libya may be geographically relatively close to each other – just a 2,000km hop across Algeria – but they could not be two more different countries. This has had a huge impact on their ability to respond to the disasters.

Peter Beaumont, a senior Guardian international reporter, has spent this week in the Atlas mountains and is a veteran of several reporting trips to Libya. He says: “Libya is a failed – or semi-failed – state that has been caught up in a protracted civil war since 2011, which has obviously had a massive impact on the country’s infrastructure and social cohesion.

“Morocco, on the other hand, is a functioning modern state. The place works – Marrakech, Tangier, Rabat are all modern cities. Ordinary people have been mobilised on a mass scale, and there is a very strong sense of nationhood.”

The difference between Libya and Morocco

Beaumont arrived in Morocco on Sunday and was able to drive directly to above the epicentre near Adassil. “Within an hour, I was at an earthquake-hit village and speaking to people affected and those providing help.”

He says it would be a totally different story if the news desk had sent him to report on the Libyan flooding. “One of the challenges of covering disasters that coincide with conflict are fractured lines of control: it’s not a question of just flying to Tripoli and getting a car. I have worked in Libya and it is an incredibly difficult place to work.”

People walk amid the wreckage, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya.
People walk amid the wreckage, in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya. Photograph: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters

Firstly, you need a visa. But there’s no telling if one would be granted, or how long it would take to come through. If a visa was granted, it would be for the western areas controlled by the government in Tripoli. But the flooding is in Derna, in the eastern region controlled by Gen Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan National Army, who has been supported by Egypt and helped by Russian mercenaries from the notorious Wagner group.

“Reporting from Libya was one of the most dangerous jobs I’ve ever done,” says Beaumont, who was last in Libya to cover the toppling of its previous dictator, Col Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011.

These safety concerns, and crumbling infrastructure since the death of Gaddafi, have made it very hard for international aid agencies or reporters to get a real sense of the devastation in Derna.

“As nasty, autocratic states go, Libya under Gaddafi functioned and it had a huge amount of money from oil. It was a place that worked – in a horrible way with no rights or freedoms, but it had decent infrastructure. Not so much now.”

The World Meteorological Organization said the huge death toll could have been avoided if Libya, a failed state for more than a decade, had a functioning weather agency. “They could have issued warnings,” said Petteri Taalas, its secretary general. “The emergency management authorities would have been able to carry out evacuation of the people. And we could have avoided most of the human casualties.”

Libya’s attorney general has been asked by senior politicians to launch an urgent inquiry “to hold accountable everyone who made a mistake or neglected by abstaining or taking actions that resulted in the collapse of the city’s dams”.

Beaumont says: “We still don’t really know the scale of the disaster. Is it 20,000 dead, as the mayor of Derna says? It could be more.”

International aid only started to reach Derna on Wednesday afternoon, two days after the catastrophe. It may now be too late to save lives. The mayor, Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi, said: “We actually need teams specialised in recovering bodies.”

A search team director, Lutfi al-Misrati, told Al Jazeera: “I fear that the city will be infected with an epidemic due to the large number of bodies under the rubble and in the water. We need bags for the bodies.”

Another official said the number of dead people could increase significantly as the “sea is constantly dumping dozens of bodies”.

The role of Morocco’s king

While it is much easier to get international aid to Morocco, the government has been criticised for not accepting more assistance. So far only search and rescue teams from the UK, Qatar, Spain and the United Arab Emirates have been allowed in. Offers of help from the US, Tunisia, Turkey, Taiwan and, significantly, the former colonial power France have not been accepted.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco
King Mohammed VI of Morocco Photograph: Map/AFP/Getty Images

The king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, has refused support from Paris, which ruled Morocco as a colony between 1912 and 1956, after years of fraught relations. It led the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to post a video saying: “There is the possibility of supplying humanitarian aid directly. It is clearly up to his majesty the king and the Moroccan government, in a manner entirely befitting their sovereignty, to organise international aid.”

Despite the king’s apparent dislike of the French government, he spends much of the year in a 10-bedroom, €80m (£68.7m) mansion near the Eiffel Tower, complete with a swimming pool, spa and hair salon. He also owns Chateau de Betz, an 18th-century castle about 30 miles north-east of Paris.

How Morocco’s communities responded

Beaumont says the furore over Morocco rejecting aid may have been overblown, and it is unclear if Rabat needs much more international support because of the specific nature of this tragedy. Most of the houses were built of mud bricks rather than concrete, he says, so people “either died or survived”.

Moroccans have reopened most of Route Nationale 10, the main road through the High Atlas mountains, to Talat N’Yaaqoub, about 12 miles (20km) from where the earthquake struck. “It’s a pretty incredible achievement to have reopened a road where large sections had been blocked by rockfall just days earlier,” he says.

As Beaumont was coming back down route 10, thousands of ordinary Moroccans were driving aid up the mountain. Among them he met a group of 16 young men in three vans, all supporters of the Raja Casablanca football team.

“It’s taken us all day driving to get to Talat N’Yaaqoub,” Ziko, the driver of one of the vans, told him. “We have food and clothes and money we’ve collected for the victims of the earthquake. We felt we needed to do it.”

In a reversal of roles, Beaumont was stopped by a local journalist who asked to interview him. “What she really wanted to ask was: ‘Aren’t you impressed with what we’ve been able to do?’” he says.

“And I was. It was genuinely impressive to see ordinary Moroccans do this. It’s how humanity should be – not politics but the community helping the community. In a couple of years’ time, I think, when people ask me what I remember about the Morocco earthquake, it is not just going to be the sadness and devastation, it will be how ordinary people responded. That is hugely positive, and given that I cover a lot of grim stories, it says a lot.”


3 replies

  1. congratulations USA and NATO. Your program of destabilization and destruction of Libya has worked really well, as we can see today.

    Remember, I was there in Benghazi when Col. Ghaddafi was killed …

  2. If Rupert Neate and Peter Beaumont would have been journalists they would have never compared apples with oranges. To put failed state and funtioning state on par and apply the same standards is simply hypocritical. Besides, journalists would have taken up the chance to name the culprit and not fabricate a grandiloquent emotion (we recall: emotions = bad, sentiments = good) in order to avoid the former.

    In a nutshell, we could say that Libya’s flood vitims are Obama’s, Sarkozy’s and Cameron’s corpses. And, in regard to Marocco’s decline of certain international help – including from Germany –, that this is due to the strings attached coming along with disaster relief packages from the so-called “value based West” (Wertewesten). The Moroccan government is serious about its sovereignty. It is a kingdom which once ruled the Iberian peninsula and extended its reach to the Senegal River. Probably, it is one of the very few if not the only African nation which does not allow other countries to bully it nor disrespect its integrity.

    Back to Libya. Since the assassination of Gaddafi, the former territories of Libya have not seen a functioning state anymore. NATO’s 2011 attacks have deliberately destroyed infrastructure and buildings. Urgent maintenance work no longer took place, which – as in the case of Derna’s dams – finally caused the very horrible consequences being witnessed today.

    The seaport of Derna is located below two dams which had the task of holding back floods caused by torrential rainfalls, occuring in the northern Sahara from time to time. As long as a functioning state could be uphold – precisely: as long as Gaddafi was able to see to it – the infrastructure was maintained in top condition. 2022 however, NATO, led by Obama and Frenchman Sarkozy, reduced Libya to rubble and finally assassinated Gaddafi. Libya descended into chaos. There was no capacity left for dam maintenance and, thus, sooner or later it had to happen: the dams broke, sending tens of thousands to their deaths.

    As an aside, it should not be forgotten, that the assassination of Gaddafi was also the beginning of Europe’ migration crisis. Likewise, the attempt to let Syria follow suite – led by the same actors – has now also opened the “eastern floodgate” for migrants. In short, Europe’s migration crisis basically is the result of the destruction of Libya and Syria by the U.S. empire and its vassals. Libya has sunk into chaos and we can be grateful to Russia, to President Putin, that Russia was able to avert the same fate from Syria, at least partially. But the Wertewesten is still working hard to drive Syria into chaos. Why else there exist sanctions against Syria that are not covered by UN resolutions?

    But again back to the current catastrophe in Libya. If one follows the system media, of course “climate change” (another hoax; THG) is to blame. The “man-made” one and, thus, the blame for the amount of the Libyan corpses is shifted to all of us (the whole of humanity), because “we” have not done enough against climate change. This is extremely perfidious, because it looses sight of the real culprits: Obama and Sarkozy, and oh yes, of course, as always with such crimes, the Englishman David Cameron, who was also involved significantly.

    The NATO-bombing of Libya and the civil war – instigated by the usual suspects – are estimated to have cost at least 50,000 lives, directly or indirectly. Now, the late effects of September 2023 caused another 20,000 or more casualties. If Gaddafi had not been overthrown and assassinated, the maintenance of the two dams would not have been interrupted and we would have not witnessed this flood disaster. At least not on this scale. And yes, those dams were also hit by U.S. bombs and just could not be adequately repaired.

    But again there is more and another aside. Gaddafi had a project for centuries to come. He started to develop the enormous freshwater reservoirs under the desert sands, creating an agricultural project that could have alleviated, if not even overcome Africa’s food problems. But it just wasn’t meant to be. The forces who destroyed Libya have also deliberately destroyed Gadhafi’s water project. They dropped bombs on pipelines and pumping stations – without any military benefit. It was just to end this wonderful humanistic project.

    Though it was a war crime of the highest order, the “value based West” (Wertewesten) took no notice of it, whatsoever. After all, “the West” are the good guys and cannot commit war crimes, right? And you, my dear reader, haven’t heard anything about this, either? Well, that’s censorhip at it’s best within the contemporary Wertewesten.

    Indeed, and as already indicated earlier, todays flood victims in Libya are the fault of Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron, i.e. the U.S., France, and England (the latter not to be confused with Great Britain). They have to bear the blame for the fact that these two dams broke and dragged so many people to their deaths.

    As an addendum and in order to make the reader understand, following are some points to remember why Gaddafi might have been really killed:

    – Gaddafi had an idea and the means for a gold backed currency called the Gold Dinar, which all African and Muslim nations would adopt and, thus, rival the U.S. Dollar and Euro. This monetary system would force nations like the EU and USA to purchase goods in the gold backed currency. Why is this so problematic? It would have reduced neocolonialism, specifically of the U.S. and France. The objective of the new currency was to divert oil revenues towards state controlled funds rather than American banks, which, to put it simply, means to stop using the Dollar for oil transactions in Africa. As the world relies on the US dollar, it gives America unparalleled economic dominance. France would have also lost their grip on Françafrique (the “French Africa”), forcing themselves to deliver mutual benefits to maintain their sphere of influence and its status as a major trade and investment partner. Gaddafi’s introduction of the currency to the African Union met strong resistance from the USA and France. Many countries like Egypt and Tunisia were ready to change their currency as soon as the Gold Dinar launched.

    – Libya had no electricity bill, electricity was free for all citizens.

    – There were no interest rates on loans, banks were state owned, citizens’ credit was 0% by law.

    – Gaddafi promised not to buy a house for his parents until everyone in Libya owned a house.

    – All newly married couples in Libya received 60,000 dinars from the government and bought their own homes for it and started their families.

    – Education and medical treatment in Libya were free. Before Gaddafi, there were only – –

    – 25% literate; during his rule, there were 83%.

    – If Libyans wanted to live on a farm, they received free household equipment, seeds and livestock.

    – If they cannot get treatment in Libya, the state would fund them more than $2,300 for accommodation and travel expenses for treatment abroad.

    – If you bought a car, the state would finance 50% of the purchase price.

    – The price of gasoline was $0.14 per liter.

    – Libya had no foreign debt and reserves were $150 billion (now frozen worldwide, i.e. looted).

    – Since some Libyans could not find work after school, the government paid the average salary if they could not find work.

    – Some of the oil sales in Libya were directly linked to the bank accounts of all citizens.

    – The mother who gave birth to a child received 5,000 US dollars.

    – 40 loaves of bread cost $0.15.

    – Gadafi implemented the world’s largest irrigation project called “BIG MAN PROJECT” to ensure water availability in the desert.

    Question: If this is called a “dictatorship”, I wonder what democracy is? Or is it so bad that alcohol was banned that such a dictatorship had to be destroyed?

    With Salaams from Germany

    • great comments and great insight. Just by the way. I was in Benghazi when Col. Ghaddafi was killed. And I observed the beginning of the destruction and destabilization…

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