Morocco is frequently affected by earthquakes, floods and landslides. Events like these cause enormous damage in both material and human terms in the old medinas, where dwellings are crammed closely together or separated only by narrow alleyways. This type of urban planning makes the work of rescue teams difficult, as they face a struggle to get to the victims quickly.
The idea behind volunteer neighbourhood rescue teams is that they can intervene before the official rescue teams can get to the scene. In concrete terms this means training residents of different town districts in emergency intervention skills. With earthquakes, for example, past experience has shown that most people who survived were saved by neighbours, passers-by or family members, before the professional emergency teams could get through.
These people are mainly unfamiliar with the tools and methods used in such rescue operations, however, so the aim is to give them proper training in how to handle such situations.
800 volunteers now trained
Since 2012 the SDC has trained more than 800 volunteers (40% of them women) in collaboration with the Moroccan civil protection service in the cities of Fes, Meknes and Sefrou. The project is currently being duplicated in Tangier and Casablanca.
Once they have been recruited the volunteers undergo extensive training to sensitise them to disaster risk. The courses also focus on psychological support for victims. They provide basic knowledge of firefighting, emergency relief, and locating and rescuing victims. Theory is backed up by extensive practical exercises.
Provision of equipment
The members of these voluntary rescue teams are provided with basic emergency equipment which they are required to keep at home, including uniform, gloves, hydraulic pump, fire extinguishers, first-aid kit, etc. Additional equipment is located in containers at strategic points in each medina. These containers are positioned in locations that are safe and easily accessible, enabling them to be used as a rear base in times of disaster.
A system that works
Once trained and equipped, these volunteers become indispensable links in the rescue chain. In 2014 they intervened many times during fires and floods. In the event of a major disaster they will provide invaluable support to the search and rescue teams of the Moroccan civil protection service. The SDC has now handed over responsibility and oversight of the project to the Moroccan authorities.
Extension of the project to other medinas
Volunteer neighbourhood rescue teams have grown in popularity to such an extent that the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior has decided to extend the approach to other medinas and towns around the country. The SDC is supporting the national authorities to ensure that the approach becomes properly embedded at the institutional level throughout the country.