Politically divided Libya has fallen victim to massive floods


On September 10, Storm Daniel, passed through the eastern part of Libya, impacting a significant portion of the area, which is home to approximately 884,000 residents.

Within the coastal city of Derna, where around 90,000 people reside, the calamity resulted in extensive devastation. Bridges were obliterated, vehicles were flipped, utility poles were toppled, and trees were torn from their roots. 

As per the most recent statistics released by the health ministry of the governing body in eastern Libya, the flooding has claimed the lives of 3,252 individuals. However, both international humanitarian organizations and Libyan officials caution that these numbers are subject to change and may not represent the final count.

On September 18, The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that the count of flood casualties has gone beyond 11,300 within Derna, and an additional 170 victims have been located in different areas. This information is based on data provided by the Libyan Red Crescent. Rescue teams are encountering daily discoveries of deceased individuals. The search and rescue efforts are further hindered by the extensive mud covering a portion of the city. According to eyewitness accounts, numerous individuals were swept into the Mediterranean Sea.

How has the political state of the country affected the rescue missions?

In the meantime, Libya is receiving international assistance, with planes carrying rescue teams and humanitarian aid from international organizations and various nations touching down at Benghazi Airport, a key city in eastern Libya.

The coordination of the rescue mission faces challenges due to the fragility of state institutions and the ongoing political crisis in Libya. This crisis is characterized by a dual power structure, where an internationally recognized government operates in Tripoli, while the eastern part of Libya, including the disaster-affected area, is under the control of an unrecognized administration.

It’s not solely a matter of dispatching rescue teams; there are several complex factors involved. They must gain entry into the country, arrange essential logistics, ensure they reach the correct locations, and establish communication with local authorities. Many of these essential elements are lacking in eastern Libya, which significantly complicates the situation.

How did other countries intervene?  

Humanitarian aid convoys have been dispatched to Derna from the western part of the country, which is under the control of the government in Tripoli. The internationally recognized government has reported sending two air ambulance planes, a helicopter, 87 doctors, a rescue team, cinematographers, and electricians to the disaster-stricken area.

In addition to this, rescue teams from Türkiye, UAE and  Algeria among other countries have also reached eastern Libya, as confirmed by authorities. Moreover, the European Union released 500,000 euros in humanitarian funding. Finally, the United States is providing an initial aid package of 11 million USD through USAID and the U.S. Department of State.

Were most of the deaths “avoidable”?

The Libyan Prosecutor General’s Office has initiated an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the catastrophic flooding. Prosecutor General Siddiq al-Sour revealed that the two dams responsible for the flooding had displayed cracks since 1998. The construction work, which commenced in 2010 after years of delays, was halted following the 2011 revolution that led to the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Subsequently, there has been no resumption of work, and the prosecutor has vowed to take “stringent” action against those accountable.

Petteri Taalas, the head of the UN World Meteorological Organization, emphasized that the majority of the casualties “could have been prevented.” Years of conflict in Libya have “severely damaged the meteorological observation network,” as well as computer systems.

To conclude, following the civil war, Libya has emerged as a fractured nation. This has resulted in a lack of a functional meteorological service, thereby leaving the population uncertain about future weather conditions. Moreover, the hazard warning systems are also non-operational. Furthermore, in areas like Derna and other communities severely impacted by the floods, most of the housing consisted of inexpensive and poorly constructed structures erected by Yugoslav companies during the 1970s, which were entirely unsuitable for the prevailing conditions.

Photo: Libyan Red Crescent Society

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