MERZOUGA DISASTER 2006

Merzouga has three sources of income: the annual one day influx when the Paris-Dakar Rally comes through loosening surface sand and destroying the roads, the vestiges of the tourist industry partially decimated since 2001, and the yearly summer pilgrimage of Moroccans for therapeutic treatment for circulatory disorders to be buried up to their necks in the sand.  

   

During the night of May 26th 2006, a freak rainstorm hit the little settlement of Merzouga in SE corner of Morocco .  Such rains are such a rare occurrence at this edge of the Sahara that the hard crust of the sands are not prepared to absorb it.  The traditional river bed having become blocked by sand dunes after 15 years of combined drought and sifhoning off of the waters for irigation projects upstream, an instant lake appeared along the northern perimeter of the village.  This drew all the jubilant children out into its centre, but the rains didn’t stop there, and high winds soon washed the water in over a new pathway and a large part of the settlement.  Within 36 hours 60% of the walls of the baked mud houses in the old village had returned to sand.  Hundreds of people were without housing.  In far off Sumatra , a minor tsunami monopolised the world’s attention.

 

Immediate relief came from somewhere in the form of fifty or so plastic tents, but other aid agencies came and went unable to provide at this scale of ‘mini, localised crisis’.  Now a year later, the decision as to if, or where to rebuild the village, has still not been taken.  Villagers remain crowded together in makeshift housing.  Their psychic health suffers. 

 

 See http://gepetto.ch/18892.html for photos of destruction

 

Now two years later a plot of land has been assigned.  It is far from the gardens, the village facillities, and uniquely desolate, but close to the road (and is that a casino I see before me? - no, not yet but the villagers resist this impractical solution.)  This summer's visit life is coming back to normal for many people , but some traditional families with houses right by the riverbed were so badly hit as to face insurmountable rebuild.  They still live in lean-tos.