Natural Disasters in Morocco: Past Catastrophes and Future Risks
Morocco has consistently stood out as one of Africa’s most favored tourist destinations, particularly among residents of neighboring Europe. Presently, the country is witnessing a steady increase in the number of tourists, drawing visitors not only from Europe but also from Asia, America, and Australia. It is imperative for travelers to familiarize themselves in advance with the possibility of encountering natural disasters or catastrophes. While natural disasters can be unpredictable, awareness of potential risks allows for better preparation.
Climatic Features of Morocco
Morocco, located in northwest Africa and separated from Europe by the narrow Strait of Gibraltar, boasts a unique blend of both sea and ocean coasts, making it a compelling tourist destination.
The Mediterranean Sea, characterized by calm waters and secluded coves along its coast, contrasts with the stormy oceanic coast known for its high surf and excellent waves year-round.
Renowned for its subtropical climate, Morocco offers diverse climatic zones. The north experiences a Mediterranean climate, while the west enjoys a subtropical monsoon climate. Moving towards the central and southeastern regions, the climate becomes hot and tropical, with limited rainfall.
Morocco witnesses seasonal precipitation during spring and autumn, with October and November being the rainiest months.
Although over half of the country lies in lowlands, the Atlas Mountains traverse the kingdom from west to north. These relatively young mountains, formed in the Cenozoic era, lack active volcanoes.
Tectonic activity in the region results from the collision of the African and Eurasian lithospheric plates, occasionally leading to earthquakes of considerable strength.
Forests cover approximately 15% of the kingdom’s territory, and due to the warm climate, the risk of fires exists.
Potentially Dangerous Factors:
- Seismic Activity: The presence of a collision line between two lithospheric plates poses a risk of earthquakes. While strong earthquakes above magnitude 5 are infrequent (occurring once every 5 years), smaller ones do not pose a serious threat.
- Long Coastline: The extensive coastline brings potential dangers from storms, hurricanes, and tsunamis. The Atlantic Ocean coastline, particularly near the Cape Verde Islands, holds higher risk.
- Heavy Precipitation: Although floods are uncommon, recent years have seen an increase in severe floods, attributed to global climate changes.
- Drought: Prolonged droughts, detrimental to agriculture and tourism, regularly affect a significant portion of the kingdom.
- Highlands: The presence of highlands elevates the risk of landslides and rockfalls, threatening transportation and settlements.
- High Forest Cover: The considerable forest cover raises the probability of forest fires occurring and spreading across the territory.
The Significance of Studying Natural Disaster History
Understanding the history of natural disasters holds crucial importance before embarking on travel to your chosen destination. This knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions not only about where to go but also when to visit, choosing a time of year when the risk of being in the epicenter of a natural disaster is minimized.
For instance, being aware that the rainy season, a period prone to floods, typically spans from October to November in Morocco, allows you to plan your trip during a different season.
By delving into the chronology of past natural disasters in this article, you gain valuable insights that contribute to a safer and more prepared travel experience.
The epicenters of earthquakes in Morocco are concentrated along the fault line at the junction of continental plates. While not the most active seismic area on the planet, the country occasionally experiences powerful earthquakes. Below is a list of the most destructive earthquakes in its history:
November 27, 1755
A magnitude 7 earthquake struck the north of the country, with Meknes and Fez being the most affected cities. In Meknes, only a few houses survived, while Fez suffered less significant damage. The cataclysm claimed over 15 thousand lives.
February 29, 1960
This leap year brought catastrophic consequences, as the most destructive earthquake in Morocco’s history occurred near Agadir, now a significant tourist center. Despite a magnitude of only 5.8, the shallow origin resulted in substantial damage, leaving 70% of the city in ruins. Both residential structures and key infrastructures, including hotels and office buildings, were destroyed. Water pipes burst, triggering fires across many neighborhoods. The disaster claimed 15 thousand lives, with an additional 12 thousand people injured.
February 24, 2004
Another leap year in February witnessed a strong earthquake, with its epicenter located in the north of the country near Tangier. The magnitude reached 6.3, primarily affecting mud-brick buildings in surrounding villages. Some villages faced complete destruction. Despite the extensive damage, the number of casualties remained relatively low, with 630 fatalities, around 1000 injuries, and 15,000 Moroccans losing their homes.
September 8, 2023
An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.9 occurred 70 kilometers from the city of Marrakech, in close proximity to the Oukaimeden ski resort. Marrakech suffered significant damage, with hundreds of houses destroyed and residents trapped under the rubble. Historical monuments also faced deterioration. The most substantial loss of life occurred in the surrounding villages, which were entirely destroyed. The total toll amounted to 3,000 lives lost and 2.8 million affected. The nation declared a three-day mourning period in response to the tragedy.
Storms and Hurricanes
Morocco is positioned north of the typical trajectory of tropical cyclones in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Consequently, the occurrence of strong storms is relatively rare. However, the country’s shores are occasionally impacted by extratropical cyclones.
January 2020 – Cyclone Gloria
The extratropical cyclone Gloria approached Morocco from the north, passing through Spain. While Gloria inflicted considerable damage in France, Portugal, and Spain, claiming 890 lives, its impact on Morocco was mitigated. By the time it reached Morocco, Gloria had weakened significantly, causing only a storm in the Mediterranean Sea and failing to inflict any damage on the country.
Floods are not a typical disaster for this African country. However, the influence of global warming and associated catastrophic climate changes is becoming increasingly evident.
Intense rains in February 2009 led to the swelling of numerous rivers, submerging over 6,000 hectares of land. The deluge resulted in the complete destruction of 300 houses, while an additional 2,000 were partially demolished.
Heavy rains in the south of the country in November 2014 triggered flooding that claimed the lives of 17 people, with an additional 18 reported missing.
In the north of the country, torrents of raging water wreaked havoc in March 2021, demolishing cars and causing damage to 270 houses. Within a span of 9 hours on March 2, more than 100 millimeters of rain fell, leading to the tragic death of two boys.
1995 – Worst Flood in History
The most devastating flood in the country’s history occurred in 1995, resulting in the tragic loss of over 200 lives.
Tornadoes are not an exceptional phenomenon for the kingdom, and they typically do not attain great destructive power. In Morocco, tornadoes are more of an exotic occurrence than a genuine disaster. A notable incident was the appearance of a twin tornado on March 17, 2020, near the town of Oued Zem. Residents observed and filmed this formidable natural phenomenon with interest, fortunately resulting in no casualties or destruction.
Droughts in Morocco pose a substantial challenge for agriculture, occurring regularly and leading to significant material damage. In February 2018, the kingdom experienced the most severe drought in half a century, particularly impacting the eastern and southern regions of the country. This calamity resulted in the death of dozens of palm groves.
In 2022, the country faced another bout of drought, depriving it of half of its usual grain harvest. The recurring nature of droughts underscores the ongoing threat they pose to Morocco’s agricultural landscape.
The unusually high temperatures in recent years have not only led to global droughts but have also exacerbated the issue of forest fires. This is particularly relevant for Morocco, where 15% of the territory is covered by forests. In 2023 alone, the country experienced 182 forest fires, destroying 1200 hectares of forests. Firefighters often struggled to keep up, with new fires erupting before they could fully extinguish ongoing ones.
Despite allocating tens of millions of dollars annually to combat fires, the authorities find these funds insufficient.
The greatest threat to tourists in Morocco is earthquakes. While the risk of a catastrophic earthquake is small, it remains a potential concern.
Other natural dangers in the country are relatively scarce: hurricanes are rare and lack high intensity, floods may occur suddenly but typically do not pose a threat to tourist centers, and fires and droughts, while impactful, usually do not significantly affect recreational areas.
Therefore, Morocco can be considered one of the safest countries for tourism.
The optimal time to travel to Morocco is between May and September. During this period, precipitation is minimal, and the air temperature is not as high as in the summer. The seawater warms up sufficiently, providing an ideal environment for a beach vacation.