In a tragic turn of events, Libya, a country already grappling with years of conflict and turmoil, is now facing an unprecedented catastrophe. Catastrophic flooding, triggered by a Mediterranean storm named "Daniel," has wreaked havoc in the eastern Libyan city of Derna, leaving devastation in its wake. As humanitarian organizations, it's of the utmost importance that we shed some light on this crisis and advocate for swift and collective action.
Thousands of lives have been lost, with Libyan health officials confirming 5,500 deaths, and the toll is expected to rise dramatically. An additional 10,000 people remain missing, their fate uncertain. What led to this catastrophic flooding, and could it have been avoided?
The Root Causes - Storm Daniel is Only Partially Responsible
The powerful Storm Daniel, after impacting other Mediterranean countries, inundated Libya with record-breaking rainfall. The storm's deluge filled a typically dry riverbed, or wadi, south of Derna. Tragically, the pressure overwhelmed two dams built to shield the city from such floods, leading to their collapse and the subsequent deluge.
In the aftermath, we must acknowledge that casualties could have been minimized if Libya, a nation shattered by over a decade of conflict, had a functional weather service capable of
issuing timely warnings. Hydrologists had previously warned of the threat posed by recurrent flooding of the wadi and called for immediate action, including the regular maintenance of the dams.
Assessing the Damage
The consequences of this disaster are dire. Large parts of Derna, including entire neighborhoods along the wadi's banks, have been obliterated. At least 30,000 people have been displaced, struggling to cope with the loss of their homes and livelihoods. The destruction extends beyond homes; critical infrastructure like bridges has been wiped out, further exacerbating the crisis. The floodwaters have also uprooted trees, wrecked hundreds of cars, and left much of the city buried in mud. Power and water supplies have been severed, deepening the suffering of survivors.
Facing Monumental Challenges
Rescue and relief efforts are further hampered by the extensive damage to infrastructure, including the destruction of all three bridges in Derna. Despite the complexities, brave rescue teams from Egypt, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, the U.S., and Qatar have arrived to offer support. The need for body bags underscores the magnitude of the disaster, raising fears of a potential epidemic.
Residents Caught in Chaos
Amidst the devastation and chaos that swept through Derna, eyewitness accounts from residents tell us more about the losses suffered. Mohammed Jadallah, a resident of Derna, described the catastrophe as both a tragedy and a humanitarian crisis. With water seeping into his home from the relentless rain, he woke his three children in the dead of night and fled the city. In the days that followed, communication lines went silent, leaving him unable to reach his siblings or return home due to the collapsed roads.
Jadallah's heart-wrenching words resonate with the experiences of countless others who, like him, find themselves in a state of uncertainty and displacement. "We don't know where our families are, we don't have homes, and we've heard that there are a significant number of casualties," he lamented. His home, like so many others, had been mercilessly washed away, leaving behind a landscape of devastation and despair.
A Call for Global Solidarity
Libya, a nation divided by political strife, desperately needs international assistance. Despite the ongoing conflict, humanitarian aid from the Western government based in Tripoli has reached Derna. It's an example of how humanity transcends political divides.
As a humanitarian organization, we, at LIFE, urge the global community to stand in solidarity with the people of Libya. It is through collective action and compassion that we can offer hope and assistance to the people of Derna as they confront this unfathomable tragedy and begin the journey toward recovery.
Let us focus on providing the aid, resources, and support needed to save lives, rebuild communities, and offer hope to those affected.