Content warning: This article discusses death.

In the weeks since a magnitude 6.8 earthquake and a hurricane struck Morocco and Libya respectively, U of T student groups have held fundraisers to support people who have been affected by these natural disasters. 

The university and various student unions have also released statements expressing their solidarity with those affected. However, in an email to The Varsity, a coalition of four student groups that included the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) called for the university to provide more support. 

The natural disasters

On September 8, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake hit Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains. As of September 25, it’s estimated almost 3,000 people have died, and more than 6,100 were injured. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue teams continue to search areas affected by the earthquake.

Two days later, on September 10, Hurricane Daniel struck Libya, causing intense flooding in Derna. The storm led to the collapse of two dams, causing mud and water to flood the city. As of September 18, over 3,900 people have died, approximately 9,000 people are missing, and over 30,000 people have been displaced from their homes. The death toll is expected to increase as rescue teams search the mud. 

Researchers have noted that, although it’s difficult to attribute specific weather events and natural disasters to the climate crisis, the crisis has increased the average temperature of oceans, which allows storms like Hurricane Daniel to intensify in strength. 

Fundraising efforts

On September 21, the U of T Moroccan Association (UTMA), the Muslim Students’ Association at UTSG, and the Middle Eastern Students Association hosted a bake sale in front of Sidney Smith Hall, where they sold baked goods, tea, and henna to support the people affected by these disasters. According to a post on the UTMA’s Instagram, the groups have raised more than $5,700 from the bake sale. 

The groups will donate 70 per cent of the money to a special fund established by Bank Al-Maghrib — Morocco’s central bank — aimed at managing the earthquake’s effects. Bank Al-Maghrib reports that most of the money from the fund will go toward emergency aid for rebuilding homes and repairing infrastructure. 

The remaining 30 per cent will go toward the Libyan Red Crescent — a medical aid organization and a branch of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement — and the International Medical Corps — which offers health care services for those experiencing conflict and disaster. McKinsey & Company, a Toronto business management firm, will be matching the remaining 30 per cent of funds donated to these two organizations for Libyan flood relief. 

On September 25, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) collaborated with Charitable Indulgence — a U of T club that raises funds for pressing humanitarian causes — to host a bake sale. The UTSU provided the club with baking supplies and committed to match donations from the bake sale up to $2,000. All the proceeds from the bake sale were donated to Islamic Relief Canada, which provides emergency aid following disasters in collaboration with the communities affected by them. As of September 29, the groups have raised more than $1,600. 

“While these disasters might feel far away, they happen more often than we would hope and help is always needed,” wrote Charitable Indulgence Vice President Yasmine Eltawdy in a statement to The Varsity.

Solidarity statements

On September 12, Joseph Wong — U of T’s vice-president, international — released a statement to the university community. “On behalf of the U of T community, I wish to extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives or suffered from these catastrophes,” he wrote. “With our deepening ties to Africa, events like these have an increasingly profound impact here in Toronto.” 

In the 2022–2023 school year, 623 international students who were citizens of African countries studied at U of T. The university’s budget doesn’t specify how many international students come from Morocco or Libya. 

The university contacted all students registered with U of T Safety Abroad who were involved with academic activities in Morocco and confirmed that all students were safe. Wong noted that U of T does not know of any faculty or staff who are currently in either country. 

On September 13, the SCSU; the Muslim Students’ Association at UTSC (UTSC MSA); Islamic Relief at UTSC, a student group focused on providing financial assistance after human and natural disasters; and Amnesty International UTSC issued a joint statement of solidarity with those affected by the earthquake and flooding. 

“We strongly encourage the UTSC community to amplify the voices of those impacted on different platforms and to donate if possible,” reads the statement.

Need for more support

Hunain Sindhu — president of the UTSC MSA — wrote an email to The Varsity on behalf of the UTSC MSA, Islamic Relief UTSC, and the SCSU. 

The groups commended the university for reaching out to community members affected by the disasters, releasing a public statement, and providing resources. “The University administration took the initiative to remind students that there are many resources available whenever needed,” Sindhu wrote. 

“However, that’s all the university administration has done and it is quite disappointing,” Sindhu continued.

The student groups called on the university to provide more tangible support to community members who have been affected by the earthquake and flooding, including direct aid. 

“Being the highest-ranking university in all of Canada, UofT should be the leading contributor in fighting climate change and making a difference globally,” Sindhu also wrote.

In an email to The Varsity, Fatima Sohail — the UTSU’s vice president, equity — also called on U of T to provide more support for community members who have been affected by the earthquake and flooding. “There may also be a need to increase mental health resources for those that may be dealing with distress,” she wrote. 

In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson declined to provide any further comment on student criticisms.