Libyan authorities divide Derna to contain potential disease outbreaks

UN had warned against the burial of bodies in mass graves

Destroyed buildings and houses in Derna, Libya, in the aftermath of Storm Daniel. Reuters
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Libyan authorities have divided the flood-stricken city of Derna into four sections to create buffers in case of disease outbreaks, as search, rescue and recovery operations continue.

The UN has since revised down a death toll of 11,000, saying that 4,000 people were probably killed in Storm Daniel, which struck the eastern city last week. About 9,000 remain missing.

With a lack of sanitation and collapsed infrastructure, fears are growing that diseases such as cholera will spread. Residents have been told to wear face masks and stay away from the water, as bodies continue to wash up on shore.

“Now the affected areas are completely isolated, the armed forces and the government have begun creating a buffer out of fear of the spread of diseases or epidemics,” Ossama Hamad, one of the country's rival prime ministers, said in a telephone interview with Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV.

Protesters have been demanding that officials be held accountable for neglecting maintenance work after two dams broke during the storm, causing flooding that inundated a quarter of the city.

The World Health Organisation has warned local aid workers against the burial of flood victims in mass graves – as was done in the first few days after the flooding – to prevent contamination of the water.

At least 150 people have been treated after drinking unsafe water.

Authorities have sent humanitarian teams to the city but have struggled to respond to the large-scale disaster. The recovery operation, with help from international teams, has been poorly co-ordinated, and residents say aid distribution has been uneven.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke on the disaster, saying: “Just nine days ago, many of the world’s challenges coalesced in an awful hellscape.

“Thousands of people in Derna, Libya lost their lives in epic, unprecedented flooding.”

Updated: September 19, 2023, 4:01 PM