Pandemic challenges are reaching Morocco’s most isolated and vulnerable.
“Stay home” is the catchphrase of this time as people and governments have encouraged one another to flatten the curve and reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 as it sweeps across the globe. For some, home has a different meaning, but COVID-19 has an impact nonetheless.
In an interview with Morocco World News, Hmou, a nomad living in the Tinghir province of the Draa-Tafilalet region, says that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on him and his family, as well other nomads.
“The weekly souks are all closed. Without the souk, we struggle to sell our animals and buy the basic things we need to survive,” he explained.
“I know that the virus exists now and that it is deadly. I have a radio that I listen to the news on. This is how I knew that the souks were closed and how I found out that the state of emergency is extended until May 20,” he said.
When he passes through villages, Hmou wears a mask and avoids shaking people’s hands.
“As a nomad, I cannot stay at home, but for the people who live in the villages and cities, they should do what the authorities say.”
Bearing the burden of COVID-19, drought, and a disappearing lifestyle
Hmou, his wife, and his son (who is estimated to be in his early 30s) are currently staying in a cave together about 15 kilometers outside of Qlaat Mgouna. The family herds 120 goats and 70 sheep. His other four children have chosen to abandon the nomadic lifestyle and live in a village within the Ouarzazate Province.
Hmou and his family regularly visit either the Qlaat Mgouna souk or Boumalne Dades souk to sell their animals. Each week, they are able to sell up to 15 of their goats or sheep.
Since the state of emergency came into effect in Morocco on March 20, however, Hmou has only been able to sell one goat and one sheep to nearby villagers.
Hmou’s son recently went to the nearest mokata’a (local government center) to inform the mekdam (leading local authority) of their location and explain that they are in need of support. Villages not far from their cave reported having received food such as couscous, flour, sugar, and tea from local authorities just a couple of days ago.
However, aid has not yet reached the nearby nomads. For now, Hmou is relying on savings and requesting loans at small village shops to purchase basic necessities.
Hmou admitted to being frightened but says he is grateful that his lifestyle has already mostly isolated him in nature.
A friend of the nomads who lives in a nearby village says that he hikes in the mountains and meets nomadic families often.
“Everyone I talk to has agreed that this is a burden they cannot bear for long,” he said.
Fortunately, not all hope is lost for Morocco’s nomads during the COVID-19 crisis. According to Rahmoun, a nomad and environmental activist in the Zagora province, the government has been working to support nomads in the Sahara during this time by providing food for both them and their animals.
Pandemic challenges are reaching the most isolated and vulnerable
Nomads are characterized by their animal husbandry—typically with goats, sheep, or camels—and their regular movement, necessary to find access to water points and grazing areas. On average, nomads might move two or three times a year.
The majority of the nomadic population in Morocco is concentrated in four regions: Draa-Tafilalet, Guelmim-Oued Noun, Laayoune-Sakia El Hamra, and Souss-Massa.
The population of nomads has been decreasing significantly over the years. According to the General Census of Population in 2014, a recorded 25,274 nomads were living throughout Morocco, a 63% decrease from the recorded 68,540 in 2004. It is expected that the number now is much lower.
For nomads in Morocco, the combination of drought and COVID-19 has created multiple challenges. With little rain this year, they have struggled to take care of themselves and their animals.
In Turkey, nomads are also facing difficulties. Around 200 families may be prevented from their annual summer migration due to COVID-19 restrictions and measures.
Around the world, fears are rising as remote and vulnerable communities are being impacted by COVID-19.
Cases of the disease have been reported in indigenous communities around the world. So far, at least one death has been reported among isolated tribes in Brazil.
It is unknown whether or not any nomads in Morocco have contracted COVID-19.