Moroccan Community in Earthquake-Affected Tourist Region Mourns Losses and Fears for the Future

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OUIRGANE VALLEY, Morocco, September 15 (Reuters) – While the Kasbah La Dame Bija guesthouse in Morocco’s scenic Ouirgane Valley emerged unscathed from a recent earthquake that ravaged the area, its owner, Abderrahim Bouchbouk, now grapples with plummeting bookings and concerns about the region’s tourism prospects.

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“The earthquake claimed lives and laid waste to villages that our tourism activity relies upon,” explained Bouchbouk, who oversees the nine-room guesthouse that once belonged to his grandfather.

Dealing with the immediate human tragedy of the September 8th tremor, which claimed over 2,900 lives, remains the foremost concern. However, for a region heavily dependent on tourists exploring breathtaking valleys, traversing mountain passes, supporting local crafts, and visiting now-devastated sites, the economic outlook appears bleak.

“No tourists, no job, no income,” lamented Mohamed Aznag, a café waiter in the shattered village of Tasa Ouirgane, who lost his daughter in the earthquake and now fears for his livelihood, which sustained his family. He spoke while surveying the wreckage of the Dar Izergane guesthouse, which collapsed during the quake, adjacent to the now-empty café where he worked.

Whole villages, many constructed from mud bricks, crumbled into heaps of rubble when the 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck, burying residents and obliterating businesses in an area heavily reliant on tourism.

Tourism provided crucial supplemental income for many residents, as few alternative job opportunities existed beyond agriculture on small plots of land. “It was a means for numerous local farmers to earn extra income,” noted Bouchbouk, whose Kasbah La Dame guesthouse employed 14 people.

Ahmed Bassim, a tourist guide in the Ouirgane area who has been forced to live in a tent since the earthquake, stressed the urgent need for reconstruction in the region. “But I hope tourists will still visit in solidarity with us,” he added.

The region, among Morocco’s most impoverished, is situated near Marrakech, a popular tourist destination replete with luxurious hotels, upscale shopping centers, and a historic souk.

Many residents hope that the upcoming gathering of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, scheduled for October 9-15 in Marrakech, will proceed without disruption due to the earthquake. Lahcen Zelmat, head of Morocco’s tourism industry federation, views this long-planned event as an opportunity for Morocco to once again promote Marrakech as a destination, despite the earthquake’s impact.

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