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Libya: UN agency warns two other dams could collapse

September 18, 2023

The powerful Storm Daniel hit the city of Derna last week, destroying two dams and killing thousands. Experts have been warning of the two dams' vulnerability for years, amid lack of maintenance.

An aerial view of devastation after the floods caused by the Storm Daniel ravaged the region, in Derna, Libya on September 17, 2023.
The devastating Storm Daniel devastated the city of Derna, destroying two dams built in the 1970sImage: Halil Fidan/AA/picture alliance

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has expressed concern regarding two more dams in east Libya which were said to be dealing with massive amounts of pressure, after the collapse of two dams in a storm last week killed thousands.

The UN agency said reports regarding the two dams' stability were "contradictory."

The Jaza Dam, which lies between the storm-hit, devastated city of Derna and nearby Benghazi, and the Qattara dam near Benghazi were both in good conditions and functioning, authorities meanwhile said.

Jaza Dam was being equipped with pumps to relieve pressure, the OCHA cited authorities as saying.

Mediterranean storm Daniel hit the country last week, destroying the two dams and causing floods which largely devastated the city of Derna, killing thousands of the city's residents and leaving more missing.

In Libya, international aid efforts gather pace

Meanwhile, the UN and aids groups warned that people in Derna and other flood-affected areas of eastern Libya were at severe risk of disease due to contaminated water.

Experts warned of collapsed dams beforehand

For years, experts had warned that the two now-collapsed dams were at risk due to floods, especially amid a lack of immediate maintenance. The two dams lay uphill from the coastal city of Derna and were meant to protect some 90,000 people.

"In the event of a big flood, the consequences will be disastrous for the residents of the valley and the city," Abdelwanees Ashoor, a professor of civil engineering, wrote in a study published last year in the Sabha University Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences.

Ashoor's words were echoed by many other experts in previous years.

In Libya's flood-hit areas, focus turns to helping survivors

Pledge to investigate

Built in the 1970s by a Yugoslav construction company, the Abu Mansour and Derna dams were meant to protect the city from common flash floods. They suffered major damage in 1986, when a strong storm hit the region.

Late on Friday, Libya's General Prosecutor al-Sediq al-Sour said a 1990s study had revealed cracks and fissures in the dams' structure. However, experts' incessant calls for maintenance largely went unheeded and since then, for more than a decade, Libya has been divided between two rival governments.

Al-Sour pledged on Friday that prosecutors would investigate the collapse of the two dams, as well as where the funds allocated previously to maintain them had gone.

"I reassure citizens that whoever made mistakes or negligence, prosecutors will certainly take firm measures, file a criminal case against him and send him to trial," he said.

Several thousand people are reported to have died in the disaster although the exact figure remains very unclear.

'Authorities are drastically failing Libyans': analyst

UN, aid groups warn of contaminated water

Also on Monday, the UN warned that disease outbreaks could spark a "second devastating crisis" in eastern Libya due to severely damaged infrastructure.

The organization said that local officials, aid agencies and the World Health Organization "are concerned about the risk of disease outbreak, particularly from contaminated water and the lack of sanitation."

Tens of thousands of Libyans lost their homes in the flooding and are in need of clean water, food and basic supplies, the UN said, adding they were at risk of cholera, diarrhea, dehydration and malnutrition.

Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) issued a similar warning, saying that flood-hit areas in the North African country were threatened by a "rapidly escalating public health crisis."

"Recent floods have severely contaminated water sources with sewage, rendering them unsafe for consumption and exposing communities to grave health risks," the committee said.

"Contaminated water can lead to the spread of waterborne diseases, putting vulnerable populations, especially women and children, at increased risk," it said.

The IRC said the eastern city of Derna had already recorded at least 55 children who have become sick as a result of contaminated water.

Elie Abouaoan, the IRC's Libya Country Director, said that the situation in Derna and other flood-affected areas was "dire," stressing that the "access to clean water is a basic human right."

rmt/rc (AP, dpa)

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