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Forecast podcast: North Africa left reeling after devastating earthquake and flooding

A large tracked digging machine sorts through heavy rubble as a single individual searches the remains of a building.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Ahmed Namatalla discuss the powerful earthquake in Morocco and devastating flood in Libya that left thousands of people dead and many more injured or unaccounted for over the weekend, plus more on a legal deadline regarding incarcerated youth in Louisiana, the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death in Iran, a new “national political movement” in Mexico and India’s parliament holding a special session.

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These stories and others are also available in our free weekly Forecast newsletter.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Ahmed Namatalla, Joe Veyera, Agnese Boffano, Jeff Landset and Jaime Calle Moreno. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is Sept. 14

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Morocco’s earthquake and Libya’s flooding, a legal deadline regarding incarcerated youth in Louisiana, the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death in Iran, a new “national political movement” in Mexico and India’s parliament holding a special session. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you’ll find a link to in the show notes.

North Africa disasters

Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at the devastating natural disasters in North Africa. For more on that I’ve got our lead for the Middle East and Africa desk, Ahmed Namatalla.

JIMMY: Hello, Ahmed. 

AHMED: Hi, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: You know, I don’t think we’ve ever had a podcast interview covering two different disasters, but here we are. We’ve got the large earthquake in Morocco and the terrible flooding in Libya. So I guess to start, can you give us a bit of a recap on both of those?

AHMED: Yes, these are two of the biggest natural disasters to hit North Africa in its modern history. On Friday night, September 8, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck near Marrakesh in Morocco. That’s the country’s third largest city. It’s situated at the foothills of the Atlas Mountain range that runs right through the middle of the country. Shaking was felt as far North as Southern Europe, reflecting the strength of this earthquake. It marked one of the largest recorded earthquakes to ever hit the continent. About 3,000 People are confirmed to have been killed so far, making it the deadliest in Morocco since 1960. Two days later, on Sunday, September 10, Storm Daniel, which had just caused significant flooding in Greece and Turkey, continued on to hit Northeastern Libya. More than 5,000 people there were killed, mostly due to the breach of a dam that was built near the city of Derna. That city sits in a narrow valley, trapping a sizable amount of its residents. The past few days have been flooded with images of rescue crews searching for thousands of people missing, but mostly finding lifeless bodies and resorting to digging mass graves.

JIMMY: Well, what’s the latest there? How are the Libyans doing?

AHMED: The devastation in eastern Libya appears severe. Recovery is complicated by a lack of infrastructure, logistical capability – which they have very little of – and the lack of a central government. Libya is a country torn by a decade-long civil war. It is struggling to provide, even before this disaster aid, it was struggling to provide basic needs to its population of 7 million. You know, we’re talking about long outages of electricity, no clean water in many parts. And that is despite its oil wealth. Recovery there is almost entirely reliant on foreign aid in the forms of money and personnel.

JIMMY: And to circle back to Morocco, how’re things going there?

AHMED: The rescue effort has been slow and complicated by the terrain. Most of the damage was in villages to the south and southeast of Marrakesh in the Atlas Mountains. Those are, you know, very remote areas which rescue crews have had trouble reaching. Homes there are built out of soft mud so they collapsed quite easily considering the magnitude of the quake. A lot of people were sleeping at the time. A lot of people are – and bodies – are being found under the rubble. The government was unprepared for this, prompting criticism and, surprisingly, a state media counter-offensive. So even on the night of the earthquake we saw state media starting to, you know, first of all downplaying the incident and saying, hey, you know, it’s not that bad. Showing reporters on the streets of Marrakesh and Casablanca and Rabat saying, hey, people are just a little shaken up and they’re just mostly out on the streets, while a couple of independent media outlets were starting to report about the devastation in the villages outside of Marrakesh. Morocco is one of the most developed economies in all of Africa and is often perceived as a haven of stability. So, despite this, they were unprepared to deal with a disaster of this magnitude. Although some historical sites were damaged, the path to recovery there is clearer than in Libya, because Morocco already has an established tourism industry and a more developed economy.

JIMMY: Now, I know these two disasters are about 1,700 miles apart, but I have to imagine the two combined are creating a real challenge to the region in general. Can you talk a little bit about that?

AHMED: Well, European and Middle Eastern countries have announced the usual aid shipments, but so far they appear to be far short of what is needed, mainly because of the scale of these disasters. Another reason is that Europe is still dealing with its own wildfires and flooding incidents, so their capacity for aid is already diminished. Outside of Europe, really the biggest contributions have come from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and even those appear to be nowhere near enough to meet the scale of these disasters.

JIMMY: Well, considering all that, what do you think folks should be watching for next, then?

AHMED: Jimmy, after the majority of missing people are found, and bodies are buried, it’ll be interesting to see if there are any political developments in both Morocco and Libya. Morocco largely avoided the 2011 Arab Spring protests that toppled multiple dictators in the region, because its ruler, King Mohammed VI, was relatively popular and the economy was humming along. He’s now been in power for almost a quarter of a century, making him the longest serving Arab leader behind Jordan’s King Abdullah by only a few months. They both took power in 1999. Following the earthquake, King Mohammed wasn’t seen in public for almost 24 hours, only issuing procedural orders such as, you know, ordering the military to mobilize and, you know, ordering days of mourning through state media. He was finally seen meeting with government officials and a crown prince, his son, who’s a 20-year-old set to take power after his dad, and they were said to have been discussing this disaster. The state media video didn’t even half sound. He has since participated in a few visits to hospitals and was photographed donating blood. So, it’ll be interesting to see whether Moroccans continue to, you know – the few of them that are criticizing their government – whether that movement gains any momentum and whether the king is able to, like in past incidents, separate his authority from the government and, you know, allow the government to carry what blame Moroccans place on the response effort. In Libya, the situation was already volatile. The country is split in half between two competing governments and struggling to resolve disputes about holding elections. Perhaps this tragedy will spark renewed momentum for the effort to hold elections and form a single central government.

JIMMY: Well, Ahmed, we have to leave it there for today, but thank you for getting us caught up to speed. Always appreciate it.

AHMED: Thank you, Jimmy

JIMMY: Take care.

Deadline to move minors from Louisiana prison

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: A federal judge has ordered all minors being held at the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola be removed by Friday.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick ruled the teenagers’ constitutional rights have been violated.

The state began transferring juvenile inmates to Angola last fall. It claimed the moves would be temporary while renovations were completed at another facility in the wake of an incident that saw six teenage detainees escape. 

The announcement drew stark condemnation from critics, claiming the prison favors punishment over rehabilitation.

The emergency motion that led to the judge’s order argued that the extensive use of solitary confinement and a lack of air conditioning during stretches of extreme heat negatively impacted the mental health of detainees.

Now, officials have filed a motion requesting a stay of the judge’s decision pending an appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

The officials are claiming there will be “a substantial risk” of “serious bodily injury” to inmates, prison staff and the public if the teens can no longer be held at Angola.

Mahsa Amini’s death anniversary

Information compiled by Agnese Boffano

JIMMY: Saturday marks one year since Masha Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, was killed following her arrest by Iranian security forces.

Mahsa Amini was arrested by Iran’s so-called “morality police” last September while visiting family members in Tehran.

The arrest was reportedly for not wearing the mandatory headscarf in accordance with government standards. 

And while Iranian security services claim she died in police custody after suffering from a heart attack, family and friends who both witnessed her arrest and saw her body say she was severely beaten by police and died as a result of her injuries

Since then, Iran has witnessed near-weekly protests across several cities. Protests that are met with brutal repression from Iranian security forces. 

Human rights organizations place the death toll at more than 500, with about 2,000 people arrested.

Now, just days ago, Amini’s uncle was reportedly arrested by security forces and taken from the Kurdish city of Saqqez to Tehran. 

Additionally, over the last few days, residents have witnessed the erecting of checkpoints and barriers across major cities and around university campuses. That, in apparent anticipation of planned nationwide protests on Saturday. 

Disruption to internet connectivity over the past week is also expected to continue into the days leading to the anniversary

All of this as hardliners in the Iranian parliament continue to push for further restriction to social media access.

Former Mexican FM to announce “national political movement”

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: Mexico’s former foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard will begin a nationwide tour on Monday. That, as he threatens to leave the ruling Morena party.

Ebrard, a close ally of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, resigned as foreign minister in June to compete for the Morena Party’s presidential nomination in the 2024 election. 

He was seen as a frontrunner along with the former mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum. However, following an internal process, the party announced Sheinbaum would be the candidate

Ebrard asked for that process to be annulled and reportedly presented evidence of “irregularities.” 

The party is standing behind Sheinbaum and she is now the frontrunner to be the next leader of the country.

Now if Ebrard creates a new party to run for president, it could throw a wrench into Morena’s plans. 

The opposition coalition has already selected Xóchitl Gálvez, a center-right senator, as its candidate, so adding Ebrard to the race could potentially split the Morena vote. 

It could also bring unwanted press to Sheinbaum during a time in which she wants to show unity in the party ahead of the campaign. 

Finally, while it would be unprecedented, President López Obrador could also step in and campaign against his former foreign minister.

Indian government calls for special session of parliament

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: India’s Parliament will convene for five days starting Monday.

The special session bringing together the upper and lower houses of parliament was announced earlier this month, with no particular agenda set in place for the session. 

Opposition parties have criticized the move, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government called for the session without any consultation with other political parties.

Now, some are speculating that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could be eyeing various announcements, the most prominent being an official change to the country’s name from “India” to “Bharat”.

Helping fuel speculation of a name change, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared at the G20 meetings last week, he sat behind a table sign that said Bharat, not India.

Another reason for the special session could be to announce Modi’s controversial “One nation, one election” agenda. 

That would postpone several state elections in order to synchronize with parliamentary elections ahead of 2024. 

Meanwhile, opposition leaders are calling for discussions on a variety of other topics, including the ongoing conflict in Manipur and legislation seeking to reserve 33 percent of state assembly and parliament seats for women.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Agense Boffano, Jeff Landset and Jaime Calle Moreno. Our interview featured editor Ahmed Namatalla and the podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: A Moroccan Red Crescent volunteer assists with search and rescue activities following the magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck the country on Sept. 8, 2023. (Photo: Moroccan Red Crescent Society)

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