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Libya flood casualties could've been avoided, says UN

Published September 14, 2023last updated September 15, 2023

Warning systems could have helped authorities in Libya carry out better evacuations and save many more lives, the UN has said. Meanwhile, global aid efforts are intensifying.

General view of Derna city, following a powerful storm and heavy rainfall hitting the country, in Libya
the city of Derna in eastern Libya has been devasted by the catastropheImage: Esam Omran Al-Fetor/REUTERS
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

The UN has said that a lack of adequate warning systems in the divided country meant the Libya floods caused many preventable deaths.

Fatality figures varied on Thursday, with one report putting the toll far higher than others at more than 10,000, but around 10,000 are missing and the chances of finding surivors is deemed slim.

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September 15, 2023

This live blog is now closed

Thank you for following our live updates. DW has further coverage on the flooding in Libya, including a look at how civil society is united in ramping up aid.

Skip next section Over 11,000 found dead, Libyan Red Crescent says
September 14, 2023

Over 11,000 found dead, Libyan Red Crescent says

The number of casualties in the Libyan city of Derna has risen to 11,300, the Libyan Red Crescent said on Thursday evening, according to the Associated Press.

As search efforts after the floods continue, another 10,100 people are reported missing in the city, the organization said.

Health authorities had previously put the number at 5,500 although other estimates and figures have varied, often quite considerably.

All sides have said that the numbers are likely to rise further as the chances of finding survivors dwindles and as rescue workers continue combing through the wreckage. 

The city's mayor, Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi, had estimated that based on the extent of the damage, a final tally could reach the region of 18,000-20,000.

Red Crescent: More than 11,000 dead in Libya floods

Skip next section Aid worker says road damage major hurdle to assistance
September 14, 2023

Aid worker says road damage major hurdle to assistance

Reema Lazar, the Libya Program Manager for CARE International charity group, told DW from capital Tripoli that the situation on the ground was "horrific."

Lazar said getting aid to people in need was proving to be difficult because roads were destroyed by the storm.

Damaged roads disrupted "the supply chain for food and medication," making it "very difficult to reach" people who need aid.

She said there were "more than 50,000 people who are right now sheltered in schools and they will be evacuated in a few days," making it difficult to know where to send what supplies.

Plus, while recovery efforts were ongoing, "recoveries from such a disaster would take months, even years, because people in there did not lose one family member or two."

"Some entire families were wiped out entirely," she said.

Skip next section Aid coordinator warns of disease risks, water shortages
September 14, 2023

Aid coordinator warns of disease risks, water shortages

With thousands of survivors now sheltering in the few structures still standing in Derna, and with fresh drinking water unavailable, there is a real risk diseases such as cholera spreading in the city, according to Ahmed Bayram of the Norwegian Refugee Council's Libya Response Team.

"The disaster has destroyed almost all functioning water networks, there is no fresh water, there are power outages and the small number of buildings which remained standing are now sheltering a huge number of people," Bayram told DW from neighboring Tunisia.

"Such circumstances could contribute to the rapid spread of airborne and waterborne diseases such as cholera, as we have seen in conflict zones earlier this year and in settings where there is not enough hygienic preparation."

With winter just around the corner, Bayram said it was going to be a "very, very long journey back" for the people of Libya, who have already suffered enough and are now once again living in flimsy tents in refugee camps, exposed to the elements.

"Over the years, [Libyans] have shown resilience to overcome conflict and displacement, but this is going to set them back years," he said.

Skip next section UN says most deaths could have been avoided
September 14, 2023

UN says most deaths could have been avoided

Petteri Taalas, head of the UN's World Meteorological Organization (WMO), told reporters in Geneva that most of the thousands of deaths in Libya's flood disaster could have been averted had there been adequate early warning and emergency management systems.

"If they would have been a normally operating meteorological service, they could have issued a warning," he said.

"The emergency management authorities would have been able to carry out evacuation of the people. And we could have avoided
most of the human casualties."

Libya's National Meteorological Centre (NMC) had issued extreme weather warnings some 72 hours in advance, and had also notified governmental authorities by email. However, the WMO said it was "not clear whether (the warnings) were effectively disseminated."

Skip next section What assistance has been offered to Libya?
September 14, 2023

What assistance has been offered to Libya?

The United Nations has pledged $10 million and the European Union $537,000. On Thursday, more nations were also ramping up efforts to help Libya.

Two German Air Force transport planes are set to leave Hannover carrying mattresses, tents, blankets, field beds and generators after the German government promised rapid help, while France was sending around 40 rescuers, ton of medical supplies and a field hospital (see main photo).

Turkey, one of the first countries to respond earlier this week, announced on Wednesday evening that two additional military field hospitals were being sent by ship, while an Italian naval vessel is also expected to moor off the Libyan coast on Thursday to offer logistical and medical support.

From the Middle East, two planes carrying 150 tons of aid have already taken off from the United Arab Emirates, while another flight from Kuwait also took off on Wednesday night carrying 40 tons of supplies.

A military plane loaded with food parcels, tents, blankets and mattresses was en route from Jordan, and Palestinian media reported that a rescue mission had also departed from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the president of Libya's eastern neighbor Egypt, has ordered the establishment of "shelter camps" for survivors, according to state media.

Skip next section Death toll rising
September 14, 2023

Death toll rising

Given the political divisions in Libya, with the epicenter of the disaster around Derna controlled by a separate regional administration to the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, fatality figures on Thursday morning varied between 4,000 and 5,000 — but are expected to rise dramatically.

Ossama Ali, a spokesperson for an ambulance center in eastern Libya, told the Associated Press (AP) that at least 9,000 people were still missing, while Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi, the mayor of Derna, predicted "18,000 to 20,000 deaths based on the destroyed districts in Derna" alone.

Up to a third of the port city was washed away when heavy rain from Mediterranean storm "Daniel" caused two dams above the city to burst. Floodwaters washed down Wadi Derna, a valley that cuts through the city, crumbling buildings and washing people out to sea.

According to local media, the dams, which were constructed in the 1970s, have not been properly maintained during years of civil war and unrest.

Elsewhere, the storm has claimed around 170 lives in the nearby towns of Bayda, Susa, Um Razaz and Marj, according to the regional health minister, Othman Abduljaleel. Libyan media also said dozens of Sudanese migrants have been killed in the disaster.

Skip next section Political turmoil and logistical challenges
September 14, 2023

Political turmoil and logistical challenges

With the North African country still divided by civil war and political turmoil between rival administrations, the already poverty-stricken population is almost entirely reliant on national and international aid. However, efforts are likely to be hampered by logistical challenges.

"Obstructed, destroyed and flooded roads severely undermine access to humanitarian actors," the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, adding that there were widespread power outages and communications disruptions.

"The bridges over river Derna that connect the eastern part of the city to the west have collapsed," the IOM added.

Political tensions complicate Libya's rescue efforts

Skip next section 'We need bags for the bodies'
September 14, 2023

'We need bags for the bodies'

After the raging floodwaters swept many people out to sea, bodies are constantly being washed up by the waves. "The sea is constantly dumping dozens of bodies," said Hichem Abu Chkiouat, the minister of civil aviation in the local administration.

"Bodies are everywhere, inside houses, in the streets, at sea," Emad al-Falah, an aid worker from Benghazi, told AP. "Wherever you go, you find dead men, women, and children."

"We actually need teams specialized in recovering bodies," said Derna mayor Al-Ghaithi. "I fear that the city will be infected with an epidemic due to the large number of bodies under the rubble and in the water."

Lutfi al-Misrati, a search team director, told Al Jazeera: "We need bags for the bodies."

fb, mf/rc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)