Libyans hold feuding governments responsible for flood deaths and devastation

Authorities accused of neglecting dam maintenance and failing to give warnings as many thousands killed in deluge

A rescue volunteer pauses for a break among the destruction caused by flooding in Derna, eastern Libya. AFP
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As Libyans try to come to terms with the thousands of deaths caused by recent devastating flooding, some have turned grief into anger and blamed the country's rival administrations who are fighting over power.

Worst hit was the port city of Derna, in eastern Libya, where more than 11,000 people died, with at least 10,000 more missing, the Libyan Red Crescent said on Thursday.

Four days earlier, torrential rain from Storm Daniel – which has wreaked havoc around the Mediterranean – caused the collapse two dams that unleashed a wall of water that swept whole neighbourhoods away.

“There should have been warnings, precautionary measures or any preparations,” said Nour Eljerbi, a Libyan journalist who lost relatives in the floods.

“Civil defence forces should have been braced.

“The governments knew a storm was on its way to Libya’s eastern regions, but did nothing.

“Some people were peacefully asleep in homes they deemed safe, completely unaware of the storm, and were washed away.

“The government is completely responsible for this."

Libya has been torn between two administrations since 2015.

In the eastern port city of Tobruk, Osama Hamad leads the House of Representatives. In Tripoli, in the west, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah leads the UN-backed Government of National Unity.

The rival governments are competing for control over the oil-rich country's resources.

According to the head of UN's World Meteorological Organisation, most casualties could have been avoided if the country had a functional weather service able to issue warnings.

“The emergency management authorities would have been able to carry out evacuation of the people. And we could have avoided most of the human casualties,” WMO secretary general Petteri Taalas said in Geneva on Thursday.

Khaled Al Saeedi, a teacher from Al Bayda, a flood-hit city about 100km west of Derna, said the devastation in his hometown and other parts of eastern Libya was the result of nothing but negligence.

“Governments are competing over power, and rather than caring for the well-being of the citizens, they’re busy with what they can gain from them,” he said.

He accused officials of neglecting to conduct maintenance work needed on the two dams at the Wadi Derna that collapsed.

Journalist Ali Al Zaidani from Benghazi, another city in the affected region, described the death toll as “an unprecedented catastrophe which Libya had seen nothing like in all its history”.

“Those responsible for negligence and failure to maintain the Derna dams, although budgets were allocated for this, must be held accountable,” he said.

On Thursday, the official news agency quoted Abdel Moneim Al Orfi, a member of the eastern parliament, as holding the feuding governments responsible for the collapse of dams in Wadi Derna.

He said the rivals failed to take precautionary measures to evacuate residents and limit the loss of lives, it was reported.

Mr Al Orfi said millions of dollars allocated in 2010 for the maintenance of these dams was misplaced after 2011, when the uprising that toppled the dictator Muammar Qaddafi led to the departure of a Turkish company responsible for the work.

This article was published in collaboration with Egab

Updated: September 15, 2023, 2:28 PM