Time to reunite Libya to protect against future disasters, says UN

Derna mayor, who was sacked after disaster, has been called for questioning among many other officials

Rescuers and relatives of victims set up tents in front of collapsed buildings in Derna, Libya, on September 18.  AP
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Unity is needed to face disasters across Libya such as the devastating floods that hit Derna after Storm Daniel, the UN envoy to the country said on Tuesday.

A tsunami-sized flash flood broke through two dams upstream from Derna after a hurricane-strength storm lashed the area on September 10, sweeping thousands of people into the sea.

The two dams outside the city of Derna were overwhelmed by Storm Daniel, which caused heavy rain across eastern Libya.

"I emphasised that, while natural disasters cannot be prevented, the terrible consequences of Storm Daniel could have been mitigated if Libya had unified political, security and administrative institutions," Abdoulaye Bathily said on X, also known as Twitter.

"It is time to reunite the country and prepare it for future challenges," he said.

The UN official met with several families who have been displaced by floods on Monday.

Mr Bathily spoke to the families and “heard their harrowing stories from the night of the floods”, he said.

“I assured them that the UN will continue to advocate for the reconstruction of the devastated communities and for the return to normal life,” he said.

It comes as Libyan officials were issued with arrest warrants by the country's chief prosecutor pending an investigation into the collapse of two dams that left thousands dead and displaced.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office said it questioned seven former officials and current members of the Water Resources Authority and the Dams Management Authority over allegations that mismanagement, negligence and mistakes contributed to the disaster.

Former Derna mayor Abdel Moneim Al Ghaithi was also part of the questioning. He was removed from his role after the disaster.

The former and current officials did not provide evidence to spare them from potential charges. Prosecutors ordered jail sentences, pending the completion of the investigation, the statement added.

The chief prosecutor said eight other officials would be summoned for questioning.

The failure of the structures inundated as much as a quarter of the city, officials have said, destroying entire neighbourhoods and sweeping people out to sea.

Government officials and aid agencies have given estimated death tolls ranging from more than 4,000 to over 11,000. The bodies of many of the people killed are still under rubble or in the Mediterranean Sea, according to search teams.

UAE sniffer dogs search for the dead in Libya

UAE sniffer dogs search for the dead in Libya

The questioning and jailing of officials were the first crucial steps by the chief prosecutor in his investigation, which is likely to face daunting challenges because of Libya's years of divided leadership.

Mounting calls for an international investigation into the disaster reflects the deep public mistrust in state institutions.

A Yugoslavian construction company built the dams in the 1970s, above Wadi Derna, a river valley that runs through the city.

The area has become known as "the valley of death".

The dams went decades without being maintained, despite warnings by experts that the structures may burst. Local authorities also received complaints from the public about leaks.

Libya has been wracked by division and on-off conflict since an uprising that toppled and killed former leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

An August 2020 ceasefire between forces allied to the country's rival governments largely holds.

Updated: September 26, 2023, 11:56 AM