Unmet obstetric need was assessed in Taounate province (Morocco) during the year 1995 by monitoring rates of major obstetric intervention for absolute maternal indications. We report results in terms of spatial distribution of the failures of the health care system to provide women with essential emergency obstetric care. An estimated 135 women with life-threatening conditions did not benefit from the obstetric interventions they required. The paper documents the effects of the monitoring process on the way the provincial team changed their way of dealing with deliveries. Assessment of unmet obstetric need in Taounate province proved feasible and affordable without external budgetary inputs. It provided the team with information on the magnitude of a previously ignored problem. The results were so dramatic as to lead the team to look for causes and solutions. These were clearly not merely technical but systemic in nature.