Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in MoroccoThe COVID-19 pandemic has harshly impacted the world and Morocco is no exception. When the virus reached Morocco in mid-March 2020, the country entered a health and economic crisis that impacted the majority of citizens. The national government took rigorous actions to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Morocco.

COVID-19 in Morocco

In March 2020, the Moroccan government issued a state of emergency lockdown across the country to limit the spread of the virus. These measures left thousands jobless, leading to increased poverty. The unemployment rate in Morocco jumped from 10.5% in the first quarter of 2020 to 12.5% in the first quarter of 2021. Roughly, 600,000 jobs were lost across all sectors and provinces, affecting mostly agricultural workers.

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on poverty in Morocco. The percentage of people living in poverty increased from 3.3% in 2020 to 3.6% in 2021. In 2020, more than one million Moroccan people became vulnerable to poverty. Unfortunately, this rise in vulnerability to poverty is forcing students from low-income families, especially girls, to drop out of schools.

Although Morocco enforced strict lockdown laws, COVID-19 cases were on the rise at the beginning of the pandemic, which increased the fragility of the country’s health system. In 2014, Morocco only had 1.1 hospital beds available per 1,000 people. In 2017, Morocco had 0.7 physicians per 1,000 people. Morocco also suffers from high inequality in healthcare access. In 2016, the World Bank reported that, at minimum, a quarter of rural families live at least 6.2 miles away from basic health facilities. The transportation costs of accessing healthcare are also prohibitive for many. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Morocco has made significant progress in fighting COVID-19.

Morocco’s COVID-19 Response

  • The national government created a $3 billion pandemic emergency fund. It also allocated $200 million to the Ministry of Health to bolster the country’s medical system.
  • Much of the emergency fund is dedicated to financing economic measures to support vulnerable sectors, save jobs and mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.
  • The government also issued cash transfers to Moroccans who lost their incomes due to the pandemic, ranging from $80 to $120.

Foreign Aid and NGO Support

Foreign governments and organizations have also contributed to the fight. The European Union offered €450 million to support Morocco during the pandemic. Morocco also received $127 million from the Arab Monetary Fund, €150 million from the French Development Agency and $730,000 from the U.S. to help contain the pandemic.

COVID-19 has hit low-income Moroccan families hardest. The National Institute for Solidarity with Women in Distress (INSAF) is among many local nonprofit organizations that have offered support. INSAF was founded in 1999 and is based in Casablanca, Morocco. INSAF targets mostly single mothers, refugees and low-income households.

The organization started a campaign to distribute food, and in order to stop the spread of COVID-19, INSAF put up flyers with social distancing guidelines. INSAF also extended help to sub-Saharan African migrants, donating 4,000 packages of supplies containing thousands of masks, bleaches and soaps in Casablanca alone. The organization also prepared another delivery of 4,500 packages for migrants in Rabat, Morocco. INSAF’s goal is to protect 8,500 sub-Saharan Africans during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Leading Vaccination Campaigns

Despite its economic challenges, Morocco’s mass vaccination campaign has outpaced most African countries, reaching the second-highest vaccination rate in Africa. Approximately 21% of Moroccans have received two vaccine doses. Morocco first distributed vaccines to healthcare workers, people older than 65 and people with chronic illnesses.

Though the vaccination campaign has excelled so far, the country is now facing a vaccine shortage. India produces more than 60% of the world’s vaccines, including many of the vaccines formerly bought by Morocco. However, the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine producer, stopped exporting AstraZeneca vaccines in early March 2021 in order to address a spike in India’s COVID-19 cases. To avoid a long period of vaccine shortage, Morocco is seeking other alternatives. The Ministry of Health has approved other vaccines and the government is negotiating with Russia and China to receive Sputnik and Sinopharm vaccines.

A Commendable Response

Despite its struggling economy, Morocco is taking strict measures to protect its citizens and is also carrying out one of the most successful COVID-19 vaccine efforts in Africa. At the same time, the government is taking action to support the economy, strengthen the fragile medical system and assist vulnerable Moroccans impacted by the effects of the pandemic.

– Zineb Williams
Photo: Unsplash