A Libyan princess who grew up in exile has spoken of her horror, deep sadness and anger at the humanitarian catastrophe that has unfolded in the flood-stricken city of Derna.
Princess Alia Al Senussi, part of the royal family ousted by Muammar Qaddafi in 1969, said the irresponsibility of governments and the “anarchic situation of greed and obsession for power” represented an absolute disregard for the dignity of human life in Libya.
The royal said the causes for what unfolded in the eastern Libyan city, where devastating floods killed thousands, dated back to the neglect of the Qaddafi era and had been compounded by the chaos of the current system. She said sadness had now turned to anger at not just the officials but also climate-change deniers. Experts believe climate change made the floods much more likely to happen.
“A friend of mine said that Libya is outside the imagination of the world because the world has left it,” Ms Al Senussi told The National on Tuesday.
“There is no empathy. People that don’t deserve to suffer are suffering the most. And we can say that about a lot of places.”
Her comments came more than a week after floods inundated Derna when two dams broke during a powerful storm. The World Health Organisation said about 4,000 people were killed but organisations on the ground believe the death toll is far higher. Experts have suggested the lack of an evacuation order or warning about Storm Daniel made the outcome far worse, while long-term neglect of the dams has also been blamed.
Ms Al Senussi’s family ruled Libya until the military takeover of the country. She was born in the US, grew up in Egypt and now lives in the UK. Ms Al Senussi, 40, previously spoke of her emotional trips to Libya after Qaddafi was removed from power in 2011 and how the hopes of a young generation desperate for change weighed heavily on her.
“It was a hopeful time,” she said. “But it has deteriorated dramatically since then.”
However, Ms Al Senussi, now a senior figure in the global art world, said she had observed an increasing number of Libyans trying to make their voice heard.
“In the Qaddafi era, people didn’t have freedom to enter the civil service and, despite the anarchy now, there is slightly more space for people to be involved and to volunteer and work. There are also more student initiatives. So there is hope.
“We need more Libyans out there doing things and making their voices heard, from the smallest to the largest thing. Having that interaction is important because Libya is so far from the global mentality. We have to wait for this generation to get an education, become involved, grow and mature and become the leaders that we need now."
Ms Al Senussi said she was in Seoul when she heard about the disaster and immediately knew it would be "a horror story”. But another moment of hope took place there in South Korea as she listened to personal stories of people who told of how they came through severe challenges in the past to build a new country. “They were able, somehow, to move forward, so there is hope that places can reverse course.”
Libya has been hit by years of turmoil since Qaddafi was ousted, with rival administrations governing in the east and west of the country.
Protesters in Derna, meanwhile, have called for a swift inquiry into the floods, accountability from leaders, compensation and a quick rebuilding of the city.
Rescuers from the UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, France, Italy and Spain are all assisting in the recovery effort.
"It is an incredibly dark moment for Libya,” said Ms Al Senussi. “But I’m reminded of a quote from a Lebanese friend after the devastating 2020 blast, who said: ‘We are so tired of being resilient but that’s who we are. We will pick ourselves up and be resilient and hope for a day we can live and thrive and not have to be resilient.’”