Rescued from the earthquake in Morocco, midwife Maria delivers babies and saves lives as catastrophe unfolds around her

“Trapped under the debris, I thought I was going to die,” said Maria, a midwife in Talat N’Yaagoub in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. 

She was working her shift as a midwife in a maternity health centre when the most destructive earthquake in Morocco’s recent history struck on the night of 8 September.

A midwife smiles as she stands next to a newborn baby in a hospital.
Midwife Maria with one of the newborns she helped to deliver amid the chaos of the earthquake. © UNFPA Morocco

“That night was difficult, but as soon as my colleagues helped me to get out of the rubble, we all managed to provide help and save lives,” said Maria, who had previously received training in emergency health-care response from UNFPA, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency.

Talat N’Yaagoub lies just 16 kilometres from the epicentre of the earthquake. As terrified residents rushed from flattened homes, a series of powerful aftershocks brought yet more destruction to a chaotic scene. Current estimates are that almost 3,000 people have died and more than 5,600 others are injured. These figures are likely to be underestimates as search and rescue teams were unable to reach all precarious and inaccessible areas of the mountainous terrain. 

More than 300,000 people in Marrakesh and its outskirts are estimated to have been affected –  among them more than 1,500 pregnant women who are due to give birth in the next three months. With hospitals and other medical facilities damaged or destroyed in villages hit by the disaster, the outlook for these women could easily turn life-threatening, especially if they face complications during pregnancy or childbirth. 

Expertise in an emergency

Rescued from the rubble, Maria quickly put her skills to use to save the lives of others. Coordinating with local authorities to organize helicopter evacuations for almost all the pregnant women in the affected area, she made sure they received the urgent medical care they needed.

But there was an even more critical task to perform, as she realized two of the women had gone into labour. Amid total devastation, Maria used the medicine she managed to salvage from the wreck of the health centre to assist both women to safely deliver their babies – one to healthy twins.

Two people sit on small chairs. They are outside with many other individuals who are sleeping on the ground.
People are seen sleeping on the pavement of Jemaa el Fna square as they pass the night outside for fear of more earthquakes. © Davide Bonaldo/Sipa USA

Maria had taken part in a UNFPA-supported initiative that over the past two years has helped to train more than 500 midwives on emergency procedures for providing sexual and reproductive health in crisis situations. Participants learn best practices to quickly provide family planning supplies and information, perform emergency obstetric operations and support survivors of gender-based violence.

Delivered together with midwives’ associations and the national association of family planning, the training sessions strengthen the knowledge and skills of health workers like Maria to assist women and girls during emergencies. UNFPA has advocated with decision makers to prioritize preparedness and establish local and national networks of health professionals who can ensure a swift and expert response during a humanitarian crisis.

Rubble surrounds a collapsed building.
The remains of the maternity centre where Maria works in Talat N’Yaagoub in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. © UNFPA Morocco

Health, shelter and support structures

Access to quality health-care services, information and protection from violence are critical: UNFPA remains dedicated to making sure the people of Morocco and local organizations receive the support they need to safeguard the reproductive health and well-being of women and girls. 

National authorities are leading the response to the tragedy but there are mounting needs for emergency relief, food, water, shelter and health support.

Thousands of homes have been destroyed and many people are seeking refuge in public facilities and sleeping outside in fear of further building collapses. In these circumstances, as in all humanitarian crises, women and girls with scarce protection or access to resources are at the most acute risk of gender-based violence and coercion.

The story was originally published by UNFPA

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