Dire hygiene spells new threat for Morocco quake survivors

Dire hygiene spells new threat for Morocco quake survivors
A woman salvages belongings from the rubble of her house in the village of Afella Igir in the Amizmiz region. The magnitude 6.8 earthquake flattened entire villages on Sept. 8. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2023
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Dire hygiene spells new threat for Morocco quake survivors

Dire hygiene spells new threat for Morocco quake survivors
  • The disaster killed nearly 3,000 people and injured thousands more

AMIZMIZ, Morocco: In her earthquake-hit Moroccan town, Zina Mechghazzi has improvised a sink by placing a pink bucket and a bar of soap on the dusty ground amid the ruins.

“I haven’t taken a shower in seven days,” said the woman from Amizmiz at the foot of the High Atlas range, about 60 km southwest of Marrakech.

“I’ve only washed my armpits and changed my clothes.”

Over a week since a 6.8-magnitude quake devastated parts of central Morocco, many worry that the dire living conditions and poor hygiene spell new threats for the survivors.

The disaster killed nearly 3,000 people and injured thousands more when it hit in Al-Haouz province, south of the tourist hub Marrakech, on Sept. 8.

Many survivors have stayed close to their ravaged villages and now sleep in improvised shelters and simple tents provided by Morocco’s civil protection service.

Later, Mechghazzi was kneading dough to make bread, sitting on a stool next to a stove out in the open.

When she was finished, she washed the flour off her hands with untreated water from a dirty 5-liter jug, shrugging that “we have to adapt.”

With only a few houses left standing and habitable in Amizmiz, functioning bathrooms and toilets have become a luxury, and they are often overcrowded.

Mechghazzi pointed to an empty lot nearby where a stand of olive trees now provide the only, limited privacy as a child was relieving himself behind a tent.

During the day, temperatures in Amizmiz still top 30 degrees Celsius, but nights bring biting cold and damp in the mountain area.

“Winter is coming, the situation is difficult, especially with the children,” said Rabi Mansour, holding a four-month-old baby, her fourth child.

“Problems caused by rain and cold will be a challenge.”

A pregnant woman, who only gave her first name, Hassna, and who is just days away from giving birth, said she was terrified.

“I never thought I would give birth in these conditions,” she said.

“I don’t have much water, it’s hard to go to the bathroom, and I’d rather not even think about how I’m going to manage. It stresses me out so much.”

A few tents away, first aid was being provided to people with injuries or sickness.

“We have a foot infection, a tooth abscess, a stomach problem, and others are here for medication,” said one responder, working under an awning serving as a clinic.

For those villagers who were badly injured or disabled in the quake, the question of hygiene facilities and health services is especially important.

Said Yahia has been in a hospital in Marrakech since he lost both of his legs, after a rock crushed them while he tried to save his son from their home.

“I live in a remote place in the mountains,” he said from his hospital bed, dreading the thought of going back home.

“I don’t know what will become of me.”

Morocco is expected to request more aid soon from the United Nations to help it recover and rebuild, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

An especially pressing need will be the provision of clean water, which was already in short supply in some areas before the quake.

Contaminated water is “a major vector of disease, with a whole range of water-related illnesses from diarrhea to cholera,” said Philippe Bonnet, the director of emergencies for French charity Solidarites Internationales.

Poor hygiene can also leads to skin problems, and the cold brings respiratory diseases like bronchitis, he said.

The charity has sent a team to Morocco with equipment to test the water, among other things.

Some latrines have already been constructed by organizations in Tafeghaghte, 7 km south of Amizmiz, and charities have said they may also send mobile latrines.

Bonnet stressed the urgent need for emergency latrines.

“If the water is unfit for consumption because the source has been contaminated, which is a risk with open-air latrines, the impact is very significant,” he said.


ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’

ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’
Updated 22 June 2024
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ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’

ICRC official describes Rafah as a ‘ghost town’
  • Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from agencies that they are unable to deliver aid

JERUSALEM: Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat.
More than eight months of war have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine.
William Schomburg, International Committee of the Red Cross chief in Rafah, described Rafah City as a “ghost town.”
“It is a ghost town in the sense that you see very few people, high levels of destruction, and just another symbol of the unfolding tragedy that has become Gaza over the last nine months,” he said.
The UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by “desperate people.”
Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from agencies that they are unable to deliver aid.
Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.
“The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, said in a briefing.
“Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations.”
But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the UN over why the aid is stacking up.
It shared aerial footage of containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.
With civil order breaking down in Gaza, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.

 

 


Houthi claims of attack on US aircraft carrier are false, US officials say

Houthi claims of attack on US aircraft carrier are false, US officials say
Updated 22 June 2024
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Houthi claims of attack on US aircraft carrier are false, US officials say

Houthi claims of attack on US aircraft carrier are false, US officials say
  • “That is incorrect,” one of the officials said
  • In more than 70 attacks, the Houthis have sunk two vessels, seized another

WASHINGTON: A claim by Yemen’s Houthi group on Saturday that its forces had attacked the US aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Red Sea is false, two US officials told Reuters.
“That is incorrect,” one of the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Iran-aligned Houthis first launched drone and missile strikes in the key waterway in November in what they say is solidarity with Palestinian militants in Gaza, where Israel has waged a more than eight-month-old war.
In more than 70 attacks, the Houthis have sunk two vessels, seized another and killed at least three seafarers.
Earlier the Houthi group said its forces had attacked the Eisenhower in the Red Sea and the operation had achieved its objectives successfully without elaborating. The group also said it attacked a commercial ship, Transworld Navigator, in the Arabian Sea. It did not say when the attacks took place.
A Houthi statement said the Transworld Navigator took a direct hit from a missile.


Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals

Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals
Updated 22 June 2024
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Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals

Egyptian homes celebrate pilgrims’ return with Hajj murals
  • Worshippers parade through villages on horseback as part of traditional festivities

CAIRO: As Egyptian pilgrims return from their spiritual journey to Saudi Arabia, waiting families have begun plans for celebrations in homes decorated with special murals.

Festive images depict Hajj symbols such as airplanes, the Kaaba, Mount Arafat, and camels, celebrating the fulfillment of the sacred pilgrimage. 

Emad Abdel Latif, a folklore professor at Assiut University, told Arab News that the “deep-rooted tradition begins as soon as the pilgrim departs for the holy lands.”

He said the homes “are initially painted, typically in blue, and then adorned with murals that symbolize aspects of the Hajj, including the Kaaba and the aircraft transporting the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.”

Abdel Latif added: “This custom also includes inscribing phrases such as ‘Labaik Allahumma Labaik’ (Here I am, O God, here I am), ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is the Greatest), along with wishes for a blessed Hajj and forgiven sins.”

Traditionally, celebrations included a religious ceremony, during which returning pilgrims might parade through their village on horseback, while sweets are distributed among onlookers. 

Said Al-Badri, a mural artist from Giza, described the intricate planning that goes into creating the artworks.

“Depending on the complexity, a single mural can take one to two hours, while a complete home mural might require a full day of work,” he said.

“These murals visually narrate the pilgrim’s journey — boarding the plane, circling the Kaaba, the ritual walk between Safa and Marwa, standing at Mount Arafat, and visiting the Prophet’s tomb. They are enriched with Qur’anic verses and popular phrases of congratulation.”

Al-Badri learnt the art from his father, and has dedicated himself to preserving this cultural tradition.

“Each year, as pilgrims return, I continue this legacy, enhancing our local heritage through these festive decorations,” he said.

Amira Mahmoud’s mother was one of more than 1.8 million people who undertook the Hajj pilgrimage this year. The murals “add to our celebration,” she said.

“Our community deeply values these traditions, which embellish our homes, and reinforce familial and communal bonds.”

Mahmoud highlights the significance of these murals in preserving cultural heritage.

“These artworks are more than decorations. They are a vibrant testament to our rich traditions, inviting every returning pilgrim to the heart of community life.”


Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips

Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips
Updated 22 June 2024
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Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips

Egypt PM orders measures to prevent fraud in Hajj trips
  • The prime minister presided over a crisis cell meeting initiated by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, focusing on the deaths of Egyptian pilgrims
  • Preliminarily, 16 travel agencies were identified as circumventing regulations and transporting pilgrims without offering proper services

CAIRO: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has ordered 16 tourism companies to be stripped of their licenses and referred their managers to the public prosecutor’s office for illegally facilitating pilgrims’ travel to Makkah.
The prime minister presided over a crisis cell meeting initiated by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, focusing on the deaths of Egyptian pilgrims.
A report discussed at the meeting highlighted that the rise in the deaths of unregistered Egyptian pilgrims stemmed from some companies that “organized the Hajj programs using a personal visit visa, which prevents its holders from entering Makkah” via official channels.
It emerged that attempts to bypass the official process included trekking through desert paths and the absence of suitable accommodation at other sacred sites, leading to exhaustion among unregistered pilgrims due to severe heat.
Preliminarily, 16 travel agencies were identified as circumventing regulations and transporting pilgrims without offering proper services.
The prime minister ordered the immediate revocation of these companies’ licenses, referred the responsible people to public prosecution, and imposed fines to benefit the bereaved families of the deceased pilgrims.
During the meeting, measures were discussed to prevent such incidents in the future, including enforcing immediate actions against companies or entities that facilitated these irregular pilgrimages.
Madbouly said that although the official Egyptian Hajj delegation comprises more than 50,000 pilgrims, it was difficult to ascertain the number of unregistered travelers due to the absence of recorded data.
An official source, preferring anonymity, told Arab News that high fatality numbers reported might include many who traveled under visit visas — not Hajj visas.
He suggested that those responsible for “these transgressions face severe repercussions, possibly extending beyond license revocation to criminal prosecution.”
The French news agency AFP reported that the death toll among Egyptian pilgrims for this year’s Hajj had risen to 600, indicating the majority were not part of the official delegation.
Regarding legal responsibilities, Egyptian lawyer Ahmed Abul Saud said that travel agencies bear criminal responsibility if they knowingly facilitate these illegal activities.
Conversely, he said that if they were unaware and merely issued visas based on client requests, it would be easier to hold them accountable if it was proven they had explicit knowledge of the pilgrims’ intentions.
Saturday’s discussions also revealed that some companies possibly knew what the unofficial pilgrims planned, while others may have been unaware, issuing visas without knowing the intended misuse.
This situation underscores the complexity of ensuring that all travel facilitators adhere strictly to legal and ethical standards, emphasizing the need for robust oversight and accountability measures to prevent future occurrences.
Officials said that ensuring all travel facilitators adhere to legal and ethical standards required robust oversight and accountability measures.


EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling

EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling
Updated 22 June 2024
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EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling

EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling
  • The EU condemns the shelling which damaged the ICRC office in Gaza

BRUSSELS: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell on Saturday called for a probe into deadly shelling that damaged an office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Gaza.


“The EU condemns the shelling which damaged the ICRC office in Gaza and led to dozens of casualties. An independent investigation is needed and those responsible must be held accountable,” Borrell wrote on X.