Search and rescue personnel with Bomberos Unidos Sin Fronteras respond in Morocco following the earthquake. Credit: Bomberos Unidos Sin Fronteras

Five days after the 6.8 earthquake that’s killed more than 2,900 people in Morocco so far, Direct Relief — Santa Barbara’s premier international humanitarian assistance operation — announced it was sending $100,000 in cash to fund search and rescue operations there. Because Morocco accepts international assistance from only four nations — the United States not being one of them — Direct Relief will be funneling its support to the effort via Bomberos Unidos Sin Fronteras, an international aid organization based in Spain. 

Prior to that, Direct Relief was monitoring cell phone data from Morocco to determine areas of most intense need. Because Direct Relief has no relationship with Libya — where catastrophic flooding has claimed thousands of lives and thousands more are still missing — Direct Relief has no immediate plans to funnel aid to that country, which has yet to ask Direct Relief for assistance. In addition, Libya remains the target of United States sanctions due to long-standing international friction. 

Direct Relief’s Tony Morain explained there’s no shortage of reasons — political, historic, and practical — why some countries choose not to accept humanitarian assistance from other nations. Language, Morain said, is often the most obvious. 

“People need to be able to read the directions for a lot of drugs, and what you don’t need is a whole lot of people not being able to read the directions for a whole lot of drugs right in the middle of some natural disaster,” he explained. 

The United States, he noted, has not always been receptive to offers of humanitarian assistance, citing the help volunteered by the oil-rich government of Venezuela — then on exceedingly poor terms with the U.S. — to soften the trauma of sticker shock then experienced by U.S. citizens at the gas pump.


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