Days after the tragedy, access to the Libyan city continues to be hampered by the collapse of roads and bridges, making it difficult for humanitarian aid to reach the city

Death toll from floods in Derna exceeds 11,000

PHOTO/ Al-Hadath vía REUTERS - Vista general del agua de la inundación que cubre el área mientras una poderosa tormenta y fuertes lluvias azotaron Al-Mukhaili, Libia, el 11 de septiembre de 2023, en esta fotografía
PHOTO/ Al-Hadath via REUTERS - General view of flood water covering the area as a powerful storm and heavy rains lashed Al-Mukhaili, Libya, September 11, 2023, in this photograph.

The tragedy is deepening in Libya, specifically in the coastal city of Derna, in the east of the country. The storm 'Daniel' and the subsequent destruction of two dams on the outskirts of the city have already caused 11,300 deaths, according to the Libyan Red Crescent. However, according to the mayor of Derna, Abdel-Moneim al-Ghaithi, this figure could rise to 20,000, given the scale of the disaster.

Another 10,000 people are still missing in the Libyan city, according to Marie el-Drese, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Libya. The storm has also killed some 170 people in other parts of Libya that have also been affected, including Bayda, Sousse, Um Razaz and Marj.

This catastrophe has highlighted the vulnerability and weakness of Libya, which has been immersed in violence and political instability since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In this regard, according to Petteri Taalas, head of the UN's World Meteorological Organisation, many deaths could have been avoided if early warning and emergency management systems had worked properly.

With better coordination, "emergency management forces would have been able to evacuate people, and we could have avoided most of the human casualties," Taalas said. 

Libya's National Meteorological Centre issued an "extreme" weather alert 72 hours before it occurred, urging authorities to take "preventive measures" through e-mails and the media. Authorities ordered residents to evacuate coastal areas, but there was no warning about the dams' collapse.

Both dams were built in the 1970s. As AP reports based on a 2021 state audit agency report, the dams had not been properly maintained despite the allocation of more than 2 million euros for that purpose in 2012 and 2013. 

Libya's Tripoli-based Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah has acknowledged these maintenance problems during a recent meeting on what happened, and has asked the prosecutor to open an urgent investigation into the collapse of the two dams.

On the other hand, days after the tragedy, access to Derna continues to be hampered by the collapse of roads and bridges, making it difficult for humanitarian aid and international rescue teams to reach Derna. "With most roads collapsed, Derna is urging the relevant authorities to establish a sea corridor for emergency relief and evacuations," the UN said. Additional bulldozers and rescue teams had also failed to arrive in the days that followed. 

Due to the dire situation, the UN humanitarian office has also launched an emergency appeal for $71.4 million to respond to the urgent needs of the 250,000 Libyans most affected. The agency has estimated that approximately 884,000 people in five provinces live in areas directly affected by the rains and floods.