Deliberating Between Water Scarcity and Landmine Peril: Libyan Flood Survivors Contemplate
- As of now, at least 55 children in Derna have been affected by contaminated water.
- However, leaving the area involves the risk of encountering landmines scattered across the region.
- There is still no agreement on the total number of casualties caused by the disaster.
Residents who lost their homes due to the recent flooding in the eastern Libyan city of Derna faced a difficult decision on Sunday. They had to choose between staying in their current situation with a lack of clean water or fleeing through areas where landmines may be present due to the flooding.
It is feared that thousands of people lost their lives as two dams above Derna broke on September 10, causing residential buildings along a usually dry riverbed to collapse while people were sleeping. Many bodies were washed out to sea, and the United Nations has reported that over 1,000 individuals have already been buried in mass graves.
The morning of Sunday revealed a scene of severe devastation, with debris and wrecked cars lining the empty roads.
Hamad Awad, sitting on a blanket on a deserted street, expressed his determination to clean the area and find out who is missing. He expressed gratitude for his patience during these challenging times.
Large sections of Derna, estimated to have a population of at least 120,000, were either swept away or covered in brown mud. The city’s mayor has speculated that around 20,000 people might have lost their lives.
Another resident, named Wasfi, shared how people were confused about the next steps to take. They had limited information and resources, with no access to water.
A report by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) highlighted that at least 55 children in Derna had been poisoned by drinking contaminated water. The displaced individuals were surviving in temporary shelters, schools, or the homes of relatives or friends.
The floodwaters had dislodged landmines and other remnants of past conflicts, posing an additional danger to the thousands of displaced people on the move.
Disputed death toll
According to the OCHA report, Storm Daniel resulted in the deaths of at least 11,300 people, and over 10,000 individuals were reported missing in Derna and other coastal settlements after it made its way over the Mediterranean and hit the city.
The Libyan Red Crescent was cited as the source for this figure, but a spokesman clarified that they had not released any death toll figures. The spokesperson referred Reuters to government representatives, stating that the numbers were fluctuating, and it was not the responsibility of the Red Crescent to provide them.
Dr. Osama Al-Fakhry, an official from the administration overseeing eastern Libya, stated that the current death toll stood at 3,252, with ongoing rescue operations and 86 individuals rescued from the rubble.
Regarding the number of missing individuals, Al-Fakhry explained that there were entire families who perished without anyone reporting their deaths. Additionally, there may be duplicate registrations in various hospitals, making it challenging to ascertain an exact count.
Other Libyan officials had previously reported a death toll exceeding 5,000.
The OCHA report mentioned that more than 40,000 people were displaced, but cautioned that the actual number could be much higher due to limited access to the most affected regions, such as Derna, where at least 30,000 people were displaced.
While international aid organizations and countries have provided emergency assistance, OCHA emphasized that much more aid was required.
Civil protection workers from Algeria, aided by a dog, searched through the rubble of multi-story buildings in hopes of finding survivors.
In al Badya, a coastal settlement west of Derna, volunteers distributed clothing and food to the affected individuals. They were shocked by the fact that people had left their houses without basic necessities.
Abdulnabi, a volunteer, explained that individuals from Ajaylat, located approximately 800 miles (1,200 km) away in western Libya, had come together to assist those impacted by the disaster.
Libya, with a population of around seven million, has struggled to establish a strong central government since the NATO-backed uprising that resulted in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Libya’s internationally-recognized Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah described the floods as an unprecedented catastrophe. The head of Libya’s Presidential Council, Mohammed al-Menfi, called for national unity during this challenging time.