Life in Ardouz was harsh but “simple and peaceful”, a life of work at an altitude of 1,700 meters far from the frenzy of Marrakech. When the earthquake shook this village in the High Atlas, the remoteness had a double-edged effect, delaying relief efforts.

They arrived in Allat, one of the village’s hamlets, about eight hours after the September 8 earthquake. The epicenter is about ten kilometers as the crow flies behind one of the peaks overlooking the area.

The wait was shorter than in other locations, some of which are still inaccessible by car. But it was “horrible”, testifies Abdelakim Houssaini, very marked.

The 26-year-old cook was with a friend when the disaster trapped the 200 residents. The shock made him “jump a meter”.

“When I realized what it was, I rushed to my mother.” She was already dead, her grandparents too. There followed long hours where he felt “powerless”.

“We put the injured in blankets, in the meantime, there was nothing we could do,” he says. The local dispensary was out of order, “the nearest hospital is an hour’s drive away”, itself blocked by rocks, but it only provides basic care. And Marrakech University Hospital is 87 km away, more than two hours away.

A teenager was found here three days later, a rare chance. In total, at least 2,900 people died and more than 5,530 were injured in the earthquake.

“In 15 seconds, everything was over, it was the embodiment of pain. All the memories disappeared,” describes Abdelakim Houssaini.

In the small village school, about to collapse, the green board still shows the dictation of September 8: “The teacher: the class is very beautiful”. The lesson in the French room was about tigers.

Abdelakim Houssaini left the village at the age of 15, due to a lack of secondary school, and has been working ever since. “I was able to come back” in July and “fortunately, I was able to see my mother before she left us,” he said, his leg trembling to contain the emotion.

His journey is far from atypical in this rustic hamlet with Amazigh culture, in a region that some called “useless Morocco” during the time of French colonization.

The devastation of these landlocked villages is a reminder of the gap between rich and poor, cities and countryside, and the disparities that continue to widen in Morocco, whose authorities should request help from the UN “today or tomorrow” to assist the survivors, according to the head of UN emergency operations.

In the Al-Haouz region, the most affected, the density is 92.3 inhabitants per km2 and the rural illiteracy rate is 47%, according to official figures from 2014.

A report commissioned in 2019 by King Mohammed VI deplored “the worsening of inequalities”, “the slowness of reforms” and a “resistance to change”.

The differences are large for the Marrakech region alone.

The GDP per capita varies between 28,578 dirhams per inhabitants (2,600 euros) in the prefecture of Marrakech compared to 20,679 dirhams (1,900 euros) for the province of Al Haouz.

Life can be rudimentary in these mud houses with wooden roofs. But “isolation is not here, it is in the cities. Here we can breathe”, underlines Abdelakim Houssaini before leaving to build makeshift walls with concrete blocks.

Here “we have pure air, water, life is simple and peaceful, we have apples, almonds,” comments Mouhamed Alayout, 62 years old.

“People were happy,” says the man who makes a living from odd jobs in Casablanca.

Today, the inhabitants who lived barely lack everything.

Agents from the National Office of Electricity and Drinking Water are cutting off the electricity to secure the area.

On the steep road, volunteer assistance vehicles are much less numerous than on more accessible routes.

“The difficulty of the road will not prevent us from helping,” assures Taoufik Jalouli, a volunteer, while unloading food. “We are ready to do anything, even if it means walking or riding animals.”

15/09/2023 11:46:05 –         Ardouz (Morocco) (AFP) –         © 2023 AFP