Switzerland has sent reinforcements to Morocco several times in the past in the wake of natural disasters like that of 2004. Building on these operations, the Moroccan interior ministry expressed its interest to Switzerland in 2008 to develop national expertise in search and rescue.
The SDC responded positively by involving Swiss Rescue, an organisation accredited by the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) with extensive experience in emergency operations.
INSARAG accreditation recognises a search and rescue team's aptitude to intervene in the wake of major disasters, in particular after serious earthquakes. It covers specific skills in crisis management, search and rescue of victims, emergency medical aid and logistics.
A hundred Moroccan specialists trained
The Moroccan civil protection services have received technical support from the SDC, the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit, the Swiss Armed Forces and the Swiss association for search and rescue dogs (REDOG) in those five areas. The programme has made it possible to establish an urban search and rescue unit (USAR) within the Moroccan civil protection services.The national unit under the command of the interior ministry is made up of more than one hundred specialists including rescue workers, doctors and dog handlers.
As part of the training, simulations were conducted in life-like conditions in both Morocco and Switzerland. In October 2013 and May 2014, for example, the whole Moroccan search and rescue team travelled to Switzerland for training. The exercise involved a scenario that tested the team's ability to intervene on foreign territory in cooperation with the local authorities and other rescue teams.
Morocco: the first African country with an INSARAG-certified team
At the end of 2014 after an exam lasting over 70 hours, Morocco became the 40th country to join the group of countries equipped with an INSARAG-certified search and rescue team. It is also the first country on the African continent with an INSARAG team. Under the watchful eye of international experts, the Moroccan rescue workers got the chance to demonstrate their skills alongside Swiss Rescue, which was taking its re-certification exam at the same time (INSARAG requires accredited teams to retake an exam every five years).
With the INSARAG certification, the Moroccan civil protection services can now intervene using all of the internationally recognised techniques and methods. Moreover, they can be called upon to take part in international efforts to help a country affected by a large-scale disaster such as an earthquake or tsunami.
Switzerland's support for integrated risk management in Morocco
Switzerland is also supporting Morocco in the implementation of a national strategy for integrated risk management. The aim is the same: to strengthen the country's capacity to deal with disasters by integrating the concept of risk into its development policy.
Switzerland has seconded a specialist to the interior ministry to facilitate and accelerate the transition from theory to practice. This expertise is accompanied by funding for technical studies and the development of a database on potential risks.