ShelterBox staff conducting site visits to a number of areas affected by the earthquake is Morocco during the assessment phase. | Credit: ShelterBox

The first two weeks of September ushered in natural disasters in North Africa, with death tolls in the thousands and whole neighborhoods either swept away by floods in Libya or reduced to rubble by earthquakes in Morocco. 

Santa Barbara–based international disaster response organization ShelterBox is in the beginning stages of relief efforts in both countries.

The 6.8 earthquake that hit Morocco late Friday, September 8, killed an estimated 3,000 people and injured more than 5,000 others. The worst of the effects were felt higher up, in the mountains, where entire villages were destroyed and populations cut in half. 

Kerri Murray, president of ShelterBox U.S.A., said those tiny remote villages are where need is the greatest, but they are the most difficult to access. 

ShelterBox’s emergency assessment team has been on the ground in Marrakesh (44 miles from the epicenter) since last week, meeting with local organizations and authorities to assess displacement numbers and determine necessary aid items — likely including tents, blankets, solar lights, and kitchen sets.

Murray’s team has witnessed the “absolute devastation” first-hand, drawing from experience responding to earthquakes such as those in Turkey and Syria earlier this year. 

“We felt confident that with our established networks, we would be able to help,” despite any challenges, she said. Fellow Santa Barbara–based charity Direct Relief has routed supplies and cash aid through partners in Morocco and Spain, as Morocco only accepts international aid from a select few countries.

ShelterBox team members have faced hurdles in the form of shakedowns by suspicious cops, limited humanitarian coordination due to the landscape, and immense logistical challenges. Additional ShelterBox response team members deployed this week to figure out how to get supplies to remote areas in a timely fashion. 

Murray said they are hoping to announce a large-scale response soon, as long as they are given the relevant permissions. Meanwhile, they are working to see how they can help the people in eastern Libya, where two-story-high floodwaters uprooted the city of Derna and claimed at least 11,300 lives. An estimated 35,000 people have been displaced in Derna alone. 

ShelterBox is looking to coordinate with their local partners in Libya, specifically ACTED, to deliver cash grants and supplies such as water purification tools, hygiene and bathing supplies, and solar lights. Murray said an assessment team will be arriving in the bordering country of Tunisia next week.


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