When I was a child, we traveled to the Atlas Mountains to visit my grandparents’ village, Azgayoud. It was a magical place: the high peaks, the rugged terrain and the forests of argan trees; the small one-story houses made of mud and stones that blend seamlessly into the sandy landscape; the outdoor ovens produce the tastiest and most flavorful tafarnout bread; the community gatherings of women cracking argan nuts to prepare argan oil, the “liquid gold” of the Atlas, while singing ancient Amazigh songs; and of course the mountain goats that defy gravity and jump onto roofs, fences and trees.

For me, my grandparents’ house reflected the essence of Atlas life. It was a sanctuary where time seemed to stand still. The wooden door decorated with a powerful knocker always remained open, welcoming everyone. The courtyard with a fountain with the freshest water hosted family and friends who rested and drank tea in the shade.

Through the eyes of a child, this place seemed like a paradise: people lived simple and happy lives and enjoyed the wealth that living in harmony with nature brought them. But as I grew older, I realized that many Amazigh communities like my grandparents’ faced great difficulties.

Many mountain villages lacked paved roads, running water, and adequate access to medical care and sanitation. Limited power supplies and a weak cell phone signal often resulted in communication with the rest of the world being disrupted. The lack of access to adequate education and economic opportunities would force many young people to move to larger cities in the north or emigrate to Europe. These communities were largely left to their own devices.

On September 8, a powerful earthquake multiplied the misery and hardships of the region many times over. The disaster killed more than 2,900 people and injured at least 5,530.

When I heard the news, I immediately called my parents in Taroudant, a town on the southern slopes of the Atlas Mountains. They assured me that they and the rest of the family were fine. They had felt the tremors, but their homes had withstood the shock.

But up in the mountains, my grandparents’ village had suffered some damage. Elsewhere, entire communities had been wiped out.

It was painful to hear the stories of death and devastation from family and friends. Isolated and cut off from the world, many villagers had to rescue people from the rubble with their bare hands. After losing their homes and mourning their dead loved ones, many have been forced to sleep outdoors as temperatures plummet to 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) at night. Women and children who have lost other family members are now at risk of exploitation by human traffickers.

Rescue efforts were slowed by the rough terrain and rock falls. Trucks carrying humanitarian aid struggled to move along narrow mountain roads while medical personnel and rescuers struggled to evacuate the injured to the nearest medical facilities.

The local hospital in Taroudant, which serves dozens of rural communities, was overwhelmed. I have heard harrowing reports of how the hospital and its dedicated staff struggled to cope with the influx of injured and deceased in the first few days.

Nevertheless, there was a great mobilization of people to help each other. Volunteers organized through social media and collected essential items such as tents, mattresses, blankets, baby food, hygiene products and more and distributed them to destitute villagers. But this assistance will only get homeless families so far, especially as winter approaches.

A week after the disaster, there are fears that these people will be forgotten again as the international media spotlight disappears. And that is already happening. The floods in Libya, which killed more than 11,000 people, have been at the top of the news agenda and the earthquake disaster in Morocco has disappeared from the front pages.

Of course, there are some earthquake-affected areas that are receiving care. Marrakesh and its UNESCO World Heritage site are likely to receive the bulk of relief and reconstruction aid. Communities in the Atlas Mountains do not have this internationally recognized label to draw attention to their heritage.

According to local media reports, important historical monuments such as the 12th-century Tinmel Mosque are in ruins; You risk being lost forever. But more importantly, an entire way of life that survives in the heights of the Atlas Mountains will be at risk unless the region receives the right help.

The devastation caused by the earthquake will undoubtedly lead to an exodus of people from the region in search of a new home. This could cause entire villages to die out. Depopulation could affect the preservation of Amazigh traditions, trades, customs, folklore and even local dialects.

This region has preserved a unique culture and language for more than 3,000 years and is of great importance to many Amazigh people. To survive this disaster, these communities need urgent and comprehensive assistance.

The people of the Atlas Mountains have faced and endured isolation and hardship for centuries. It is a story of strength and determination, of a culture that endures despite adversity. But this earthquake will tear their communities apart if we don’t help them.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

Source : www.aljazeera.com

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