How the interactive database helped bring earthquake relief to off-map villages

How the interactive database helped bring earthquake relief to off-map villages

Late one night in September, a surface earthquake struck the Atlas Mountains in western Morocco. the US Geological Survey He said the quake measured 6.8 and was centered about 72 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of Marrakesh, the fourth-largest city in the North African country. When the quake struck six provinces that night, it affected an area larger than Switzerland.

The worst-hit sites were literally off the map – rural mountain villages unfamiliar to most Moroccan citizens, let alone aid workers from foreign countries. Within hours, humanitarian relief organizations, both local and international, arrived international, switched to high speed. But the caravans, carrying basic necessities and journalists eager to tell the story, faced an obstacle: knowing where to go and how to get there.

Moroccan topographer Nabil Butrick says: “The post-earthquake crisis reminded me of the early days of the Corona virus, with great confusion and an absence of important information.” “In 2020, I built my first online database to disseminate accurate information about the number of deaths and injuries, and to counter rumors and misinformation that invade social media platforms. Immediately after the earthquake, I felt the need for another database to provide important information.

The earthquake, which was the strongest to hit the country in 60 years, killed more than 2,900 people, injured about 3,000 others, and displaced many more. according to Moroccan local authorities2,930 villages, or a third of the villages in the High Atlas Mountains region, were completely or partially destroyed.

A house was damaged, with walls missing, due to the earthquake.
Earthquake damage in the village of Ouarzazate. Credit: Abdo Fayez/Shutterstock

Despite the widespread devastation, the Moroccan government insisted that relief workers be led by local workers. In an attempt to avoid geopolitical conflict and ensure that donations are used efficiently, Morocco made the controversial decision to accept only a small portion of the international aid provided. History of the Morocco earthquakeThe electronic database created by Boutrik for hard-to-reach areas has streamlined efforts and resources.

“I decided to build a bilingual interactive website (Arabic-French). Online database “Providing information and geographic mapping of affected areas within a 50-kilometre radius,” says Butrick.

Within days, the database became active, and over the following weeks, it collected information on 123 districts, including hundreds of villages as well as 54 relief organizations, providing users with up-to-date information on road conditions and other important details for coordinating relief and rescue missions. .

Connect the dots

Like everyone else, Butrick was shocked by the devastation that befell his country within seconds and the horrific loss of life.

The 39-year-old says: “I was afraid for my in-laws who live in Agadir, near the epicenter of the earthquake.”

Boutric comes from the coastal city of Nador, the regional capital of the Rif region in northeastern Morocco, and he is no stranger to earthquakes: his city is located 125 kilometers south of Al Hoceima, the site of a 6.3-magnitude earthquake. Earthquake Which claimed more than 600 lives and left about 15,000 people homeless in 2004.

So, with his deep knowledge of the terrain of the mountainous areas hit by the earthquake, and the panic that such natural disasters create, Buttrick was forced to act in the most effective way possible.

With the help of his collaborator Yassin Shamakh, a 23-year-old computer engineering student who was responsible for the technical aspects of the initiative, he used topographic maps and high-resolution satellite images to identify affected communities and hamlets.

Then use this data to create an easy-to-navigate interface, consisting of several spreadsheets and an interactive Google map. The first sheet includes the names and locations of all the affected areas and villages, the contact person in each location, their phone numbers, and details about the survivors such as the number of children and the number of injured.

The second sheet is a request table, which includes the names of relief organizations, their contact information, the area they serve, and the type of assistance requested. Users just need to fill out a simple online form to add a new village and their specific assistance request. Site administrators then add the information to two spreadsheets that are updated regularly.

People take supplies from the back of a truck to distribute in a village in Morocco after an earthquake.
The platform has helped organizations like the Smile Association meet the individual needs of each community. Courtesy of the Smile Association

The site has received more than a million visitors so far, according to Butrick.

since 88.1 percent Since Morocco’s population has access to the Internet, including via mobile phone, the platform has been rapidly adopted, even in remote areas.

The right help

Constant updates to the database were key to its success, according to those who used it.

Omar Al-Malouli is a resident of the Zaouiat Al-Farfar area of ​​the Ida Ojoumad village in the Taroudant province. 980 deaths were reported. All 300 residents of the village of Mellouli survived the earthquake, which did not happen in neighboring villages. But all seventy houses were destroyed.

But Mellouli says the platform has made a difference. “The village was in dire need of basic necessities like tents, food and blankets. The platform helped make sure our exact needs were met,” he explains.

Sofia Ait Mubarak, president of the Marrakesh-based club Smile AssociationShe says that although her organization was active in the region before the disaster, the platform has helped increase its efficiency.

Mubarak says: “After distributing aid to some affected villages in the Al Hoceima region, we registered on the platform to avoid duplication with other charitable organizations.”

Soon after transporting food, bedding and clothing, I realized that as the temperatures dropped, there were other, more pressing needs, such as tents. “We communicated this through the platform to encourage other organizations to donate things we didn’t have,” she says.

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About 80 kilometers from Marrakesh, in a village TolkienWhich was completely destroyed, survivor Hassan narrates a similar case.

“I saw on the platform that a charity organization was about to deliver a large amount of milk to my village, but what we needed were blankets. I contacted them through the platform, and they brought us blankets and sent the milk to another place as it was needed badly.”

The platform’s efficiency also helped reduce waste. “This gave donors information about the exact needs of each village, so the surplus would be diverted to other areas in desperate need,” explains Butrick.

Key supplier

According to Enes Aktau, who covered the earthquake for local media FebruaryCharitable organizations “benefited most from this platform, as they were able to accurately determine the locations and needs of each village.”

“Such initiatives address one of the most difficult challenges that rescuers and volunteers face, which is making information readily available and facilitating cooperation between different entities,” says Younes Al-Zuhair, a Moroccan journalist who works for a local news website.

“The rugged and unfamiliar terrain, known only to local residents, was a challenge for journalists, rescuers and volunteers. “The platform helped save lives as it accelerated evacuation, rescue and shelter operations,” adds Al-Zuhair.

A village built of stone the same reddish color as the mountains behind it in Morocco.
A village in the Atlas Mountains as it appeared before the earthquake. Credit: A. Pushkin/Shutterstock

According to what was reported by a member of the Moroccan Civil Defense Al Haouz areawhere 1,680 people were killed, the initiative helped reduce the number of vehicles carrying aid to villages, thus speeding up the delivery process and simplifying donations.

“The roads were very crowded, and rescue teams were struggling to reach some villages,” he says. (He requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.)

Spanish aid worker in We are hungryInternational rescue teams from Spain, Britain and Qatar, where international rescue teams are based, agreed that the platform had a significant impact on the speed of operations.

“This type of work is necessary during natural disasters, not only in Morocco but all over the world,” he said. “When we first arrived, the narrow, unpaved roads were crowded with cars eager to help from all over the country. This single initiative saved time and helped us save more people.”

According to Butrick, immediately after the earthquake, a charity called Ntouno (“We Cooperate” in Arabic) used its own online platform to coordinate the delivery of basic needs between NGOs and earthquake victims. But the efforts were very local and did not help the most affected remote villages. “The platform I created expanded this idea to include a wider area and to geolocate unknown villages,” says Butrick. “But anyone on Earth can replicate this database online if they have sufficient knowledge of the terrain of the area they wish to cover and if they have the necessary technical skills.”

Two months after the earthquake, traffic on the platform has slowed, but it will still be available for reference, says Shammakh. “They will always be available to the public as documentation.”

The article was published in collaboration with For example.

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