Morocco is discussing how to rebuild after the September earthquake that killed thousands

The ceiling collapsed, shattering crockery in the kitchen and trapping picture frames and homework in the rubble. When the ground finally stopped shaking, the construction worker took his five loved ones to the park. He then rescued his father, mother, and aunt who were trapped in his childhood home nearby.

For centuries, families in towns like Moulay Brahim in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains built their homes out of stone and brick, which they made by tamping handfuls of muddy soil tightly into moulds.

Now they face the daunting task of rebuilding after the quake, and villagers and architects are discussing how to do it.

From Mexico to Hawaii, the issue of rebuilding communities without changing them for the worse in the aftermath of natural disasters arises entirely. In Morocco, the government of King Mohammed VI pledged, in a statement issued a week after the earthquake, to rebuild “in a manner consistent with heritage and architectural monuments.”

The country plans to spend $11.7 billion on post-earthquake reconstruction over the next five years – equivalent to about 8.5% of its annual gross domestic product. Morocco plans to allocate cash aid to the population to cover basic necessities, with an additional amount of $13,600 to rebuild completely destroyed families and $7,800 for those that were partially destroyed.

Because of the number of earthquakes that have struck Morocco, there is widespread agreement among villagers and architects that safety should be the highest priority. This has created an orientation toward modern building materials and an ambivalence toward the government’s stated commitment to rebuilding in keeping with Morocco’s cultural and architectural heritage.

In some places, local officials, waiting for word from higher authorities, stopped those who tried to start construction. This is sowing discontent as the weather gets colder, said laid-off miner Ait Ibrahim Ibrahim in Anerni, a mountainside pastoral village where 36 people died.

Many say they hope to build with concrete and bricks commonly used in major Moroccan cities, instead of the traditional earthen bricks, which they believe may exacerbate their plight.

But a subset of architects and engineers dispute the idea that bricks made from earth are more susceptible to deterioration.

Mohamed Hamdouni Elalamy, a professor at the National School of Architecture in Rabat, said the idea that newer materials like concrete are signs of upper social class took hold as parts of Morocco experienced rapid development.

“People see that the government is building all over the country using concrete and they think it is because it is better and safer. They wonder: Why should we build with materials meant for the poor, that are unsafe and primitive?,” he said.

“It’s not a matter of materials, it’s a matter of techniques,” he said.

Kit Miyamoto, a Japanese-American structural engineer, led a team that met with builders and surveyed damage after the quake and came to a similar conclusion. His team’s report said it found “no significant difference in the seismic performance of traditional or modern building systems.” It concluded that poorly constructed homes composed of a mixture of concrete and earth materials fared worse in the earthquake.

“The prevailing belief in many post-earthquake affected communities around the world is that old traditional building systems are bound to be ‘bad and weak,’ while new modern technologies such as steel and concrete,” they wrote in their October report. It is inherently “better.” “Poor construction quality is the primary cause of failure, not modern versus traditional material systems.”

Miyamoto said he hopes Morocco will rebuild using affordable materials that residents will be able to repair. He said that if the government rebuilds using more expensive concrete, he is concerned about future residents being able to make small repairs to maintain earthquake safety.

His team’s recommendations included that the rebuilding process adhere to rules that include new earthquake safety requirements that were added in 2011, seven years after a violent earthquake occurred in the north of the country.

The code includes sections on earthen materials, foundations, masonry reinforcements, and the ideal space between bricks. It restricted the number of storeys that could be built in earthquake-prone areas and banned the use of clay bricks on “soft ground.”

However, the scope of its implementation remains limited – a problem that many blamed on the damage to cities such as Casablanca and rural areas of the country hit by the earthquake. There, many walls – whether made of concrete or earthen bricks – lacked adequate foundations.

“The problem is not the building code, but the lack of it,” Miyamoto said.

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Yassin Oulhak contributed to preparing the report.

(Tags for translation)Earthquakes

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