In an emerging humanitarian crisis in Libya, nearly 3,000 individuals have been officially declared deceased, and the whereabouts of up to 10,000 people remain unaccounted for. These somber statistics have come to light in accordance with Taqfiq Shukri, the spokesperson for Libya’s Red Crescent.
The magnitude of devastation is staggering, as captured in images posted online from the port city of Derna, home to 100,000 inhabitants. Here, multi-storey structures along the riverbanks have crumbled, and residences have been engulfed by the surging waters. This devastation followed the breach of two upstream dams.
The catastrophe that has befallen Libya is a direct consequence of the torrential rains brought by Storm Daniel. The storm made landfall in Libya on Sunday after wreaking havoc in other Mediterranean countries, particularly Greece, but also impacting Bulgaria and Turkey.
Derna, situated 250 kilometres (150 miles) west of Benghazi, is encircled by hills and bisected by a typically dry riverbed during the summer. However, this riverbed has transformed into a furious torrent, sweeping away several major bridges.
Tamer Ramadan of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies gravely cautioned, “The death toll is immense and may reach into the thousands.” This echoes reports from local leaders indicating that 2,084 individuals have lost their lives. Ramadan conveyed, “We can confirm from our independent sources of information that the number of missing persons has reached 10,000 individuals thus far.” He shared this information with reporters in Geneva via video link from neighbouring Tunisia, which shares a border with Libya.
Footage broadcast on Libyan TV displayed numerous bodies, shrouded in blankets or sheets, in Derna’s main square, awaiting identification and burial. Additionally, more bodies were discovered in Martouba, a village approximately 30 kilometres southeast of Derna.
On Monday, over 300 victims were laid to rest, with many placed in mass graves. Nevertheless, there is apprehension that a significantly larger number of people may have been lost in the waters of the river, which flows into the Mediterranean Sea.
Libya, an oil-rich nation in North Africa, is still in the process of recovering from the years of conflict and turmoil that ensued after the 2011 NATO-backed popular uprising, which resulted in the toppling and demise of the long-standing dictator, Moamer Kadhafi. Presently, the country remains divided between two rival governments: the UN-brokered, internationally recognised administration situated in the western capital of Tripoli, and a separate administration in the eastern region affected by the flood disaster.
Access to the eastern region is restricted, with severed phone and online connections. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Oussama Hamad of the eastern administration reported, “There are more than 2,000 casualties and thousands missing in Derna alone.” Similarly, military strongman Khalifa Haftar, supporting the eastern administration, issued a comparable warning, although the exact toll had not yet been verified by emergency or medical services.
An official from Derna’s city council described the situation as “catastrophic” and implored for both national and international intervention during an interview with TV channel Libya al-Ahrar.
Rescue teams from Turkey have arrived in eastern Libya, as per authorities, while the UN and several countries, including the United States, Italy, France, Qatar, Egypt, and Tunisia, have offered to provide assistance.
The storm also affected Benghazi and the hill district of Jabal al-Akhdar, resulting in flooding, mudslides, and significant damage across the wider region. Images depict overturned cars and trucks, highlighting the extent of the devastation.
Libya’s National Petroleum Company, primarily operating in eastern Libya, declared a “state of maximum alert” and suspended flights between production sites due to significantly reduced activity.
Libya’s UN-brokered government, under the leadership of Abdelhamid Dbeibah, declared three days of national mourning on Monday and emphasised the need for “the unity of all Libyans” in the face of this disaster.
Aid convoys from Tripoli are en route to the east, and Dbeibah’s government announced the dispatch of two ambulance planes, a helicopter, rescue teams, canine search units, 87 doctors, and technicians to restore power.
The alarming situation has garnered international attention, with numerous foreign leaders expressing their condolences. Charles Michel, President of the European Council, shared his sentiments on X, formerly Twitter, highlighting the “heart-wrenching images from Libya following the loss of lives and widespread destruction caused by floods, particularly in the east.” He affirmed the EU’s readiness to assist those affected by this calamity.
Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the US State Department, offered “sympathies and condolences” to those impacted and noted that Washington was collaborating with the UN and Libyan authorities to support relief efforts.