Protests surge in flood-stricken Libyan city of Derna, urging aid and inquiries into wrongdoing
- Protesters gathered in the flood-hit city of Derna on Monday, demanding more assistance and accusing political leaders of failing them.
- Their demands include taking action against those responsible for the dam collapses.
- They are also requesting UN support for the city’s reconstruction.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Derna, a coastal city in Libya that has been devastated by a major flash flood, to express their dissatisfaction with the authorities’ neglect. The flood claimed the lives of thousands of people.
The protesters assembled outside the grand mosque in the city and chanted slogans denouncing the eastern Libyan parliament and its leader, Aguilah Saleh.
They shouted phrases such as “The people demand the fall of the parliament,” “Aguila is the enemy of God,” “The blood of martyrs must not be shed in vain,” and “Thieves and betrayers should pay the price.”
A statement on behalf of the protesters called for a swift investigation and legal action against those accountable for the disaster. They also demanded the establishment of a United Nations office in Derna, initiation of city reconstruction, compensation for affected residents, and an inquiry into the city council’s management of previous budgets.
Analyst Anas el-Gomati commented on the destruction, posting on X (formerly Twitter), “The survivors of this city stand against those who caused death and destruction.”
Politicians and experts argue that the turmoil in Libya following the overthrow and killing of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011 has hindered the maintenance of critical infrastructure.
On September 10th, two dams, which had been showing signs of cracks since 1998, collapsed after Storm Daniel hit eastern Libya. This unleashed a catastrophic flood that swept through Derna, a city with a population of 100,000, resulting in the deaths of nearly 3,300 people and leaving thousands missing.
UN agencies have warned of the urgent need for clean water, food, and basic supplies in order to prevent disease outbreaks such as cholera, diarrhea, dehydration, and malnutrition among the tens of thousands of displaced and traumatized residents.
On Monday, the UN issued a warning that disease outbreaks could exacerbate the crisis further.
Local authorities, aid organizations, and the World Health Organization are concerned about the potential spread of diseases due to contaminated water and inadequate sanitation, leading the Libyan disease control center to ban the consumption of local mains water in the disaster zone due to pollution.
Rescue teams from various countries are tirelessly searching for bodies amidst the debris of destroyed buildings, crushed cars, and uprooted trees.
The flood submerged a densely populated area of Derna, covering six square kilometers. According to a preliminary report based on satellite imagery and released by the Tripoli government, 1,500 buildings were damaged, with 891 completely destroyed.
Abdul Wahab al-Masouri, a bereaved Derna resident, expressed his deep sorrow, stating, “We grew up here, we were raised here… But we have come to loathe this place and what it has become.”
Bulldozers are working to clear the roads, while families continue to mourn the loss of their loved ones in mosques and amid the foul smell in the air.
The exact death toll remains unknown, as numerous individuals were swept into the sea.
Othman Abdeljalil, the Minister of Health in the eastern administration of Libya, reported that 3,283 people in Derna have been confirmed dead. However, Libyan officials and humanitarian groups believe that the final toll may be significantly higher.
Emergency response teams and aid from various countries, including Egypt, France, Greece, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, have been deployed to the affected areas.
Tragically, five members of a Greek rescue team lost their lives in a collision with a Libyan family’s car on the Benghazi-to-Derna road, resulting in the deaths of three family members as well.
Egypt has dispatched a helicopter carrier to the Tobruk military base in the east, which will serve as a field hospital with over 100 beds, as reported by Egyptian media.
France has established a field hospital in Derna.
The UN, which has launched an emergency appeal for over $71 million, stated that nine of its agencies are providing aid and support to the survivors.
The European Union has announced an additional humanitarian funding of approximately $5.5 million for Libya.
In response to the tragedy, rival Libyan administrations seem to have temporarily set aside their differences and are cooperating in the aid effort. Libya has been divided between a UN-backed administration in Tripoli and another administration in the east since the NATO-backed uprising over a decade ago.
The Tripoli-based government announced the start of construction on a temporary bridge over the river in Derna.
UN experts attribute the high death toll to both climatic factors, as the Mediterranean region has experienced an unusually hot summer, and the lasting impact of Libya’s past conflicts.