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Morocco earthquake: UN disaster agency not involved in search and rescue efforts

UN disaster response team arrived on Saturday but is not coordinating deployment of international search and rescue teams, MEE learns
A Moroccan search and rescue team is dispatched to look for survivors in Ouargane village, near Marrakech, on Saturday (AP)

The deployment of international search and rescue teams in Morocco following Friday's earthquake is not being coordinated through the United Nations' disaster response system, Middle East Eye has learned.

The international response to major disasters and humanitarian emergencies is usually organised through the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha).

Ocha confirmed on Monday that a team from the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (Undac) had been on the ground in Morocco since Saturday.

But Jens Laerke, an Ocha spokesperson, told MEE search and rescue teams so far heading to Morocco were not being coordinated through the UN.

The Undac team was there to provide support to UN humanitarian officials already in the country, he said.

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“A UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team has arrived in-country to support the UN Country Team at the request of the UN resident coordinator,” Laerke told MEE.

Members of the team arrived in Morocco within 24 hours of the earthquake, he said.

On Saturday, Nathalie Fustier, the UN resident coordinator in Rabat, said the UN stood ready to help the Moroccan government.

“On behalf of the Country Team and all the staff of its organisations, the resident coordinator also expresses the solidarity of the United Nations System with Morocco and remains at the disposal of the government to provide all assistance in these difficult moments,” said Fustier.

But, in an interview with UN News, Fustier said the UN remained "on standby".

"We have reached out to the government of Morocco to offer UN support in search and rescue, coordination of humanitarian assistance and health," she said.

"I think the government is deploying its own answer to the earthquake and, for now, we are on standby. We need to assist according to the modalities that the government would like to choose."

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Ocha coordinates the world body’s response to major disasters and emergencies through Undac and Insarag, an international network of search and rescue units.

Undac and Insarag are typically deployed into disaster areas at the request of the governments of the countries affected.

In 2014, Morocco became the first African country with an Insarag-certified search and rescue team.

Morocco has so far accepted offers of help, including search and rescue teams, from a number of countries, including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Spain and the United Kingdom.

But Morocco’s interior ministry appears to have been slow to accept offers of help from other countries, including France.

Moroccan state media reported on Sunday that acceptance of offers of support and aid had been "based on a precise assessment of needs on the ground by the Moroccan authorities".

Almost 2,500 people are confirmed dead, according to the latest death toll from Morocco’s interior ministry. Thousands more are injured, and rescue workers are still struggling to reach remote mountain villages in the areas worst affected by the earthquake.

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