UN envoy to Libya calls for inclusive national reconstruction plan

A flash flood broke through two dams upstream from Derna, killing thousands of people

Egyptian rescuers search Derna in the aftermath of the devastating floods in the Libyan city. Reuters
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The UN has called for a "comprehensive national plan" for the reconstruction of areas affected by flash floods in Libya.

Political instability, a decade of civil war, crumbling infrastructure and weak emergency systems all played a role in the tragedy that unfolded in the eastern region of the country in early September.

Abdoulaye Bathily, the UN envoy to the country, has met Libyan officials to discuss efforts to overcome the crisis caused by Storm Daniel.

Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army, met Mr Bathily and discussed continuing relief efforts in Derna and neighbouring areas.

"We discussed perspectives on the reconstruction of the devastated areas. I underlined the need for co-ordinated national action to overcome the crisis, including a transparent and inclusive national plan for reconstruction," Mr Bathily said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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.

"I reiterated my call for all stakeholders to build on the extraordinary solidarity and unity Libyans have shown in these difficult times," he said.

All must "step up efforts towards holding elections and unifying national institutions to better address future challenges", he said.

On Monday, Libya's General Prosecutor Al Siddiq Al Sour said he issued an order to detain eight people pending an investigation into the collapse of the dams.

Prosecutors questioned seven former and current officials with the water resources authority and dams management authority over allegations that mismanagement and negligence contributed to the disaster, Mr Al Sour's office said in a statement.

Former Derna mayor Abdelmenam Al Ghaithi, who was sacked after the disaster, was also questioned, the office said.

Protesters have called for officials to be held accountable for the disaster and earlier set fire to Mr Al Ghaithi's home.

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.

A report by a state-run audit agency in 2021 found the dams had not been maintained despite more than $2 million being allocated for the work in 2012 and 2013.

A Turkish company was contracted in 2007 to carry out maintenance work on the dams and to build a third between them. Arsel Construction Company said on its website that it completed its work in November 2012.

It did not respond to an email seeking further comment.

There is still no widely accepted death toll for the floods that flattened Derna and nearby coastal towns.

The latest official death toll released on Friday evening stood at 3,753 but the eventual count is expected to be far higher, with international aid groups giving estimates of up to 10,000 people missing.

Authorities in the eastern region of the divided country said last Friday that Derna would host an international conference next month to aid reconstruction efforts.

Bodies are still being found in large numbers, under the debris or on beaches.

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 25, 2023, 11:36 AM