As Storm Daniel approached Libya on September 11, residents braced for a powerful event with the potential for significant flooding. Despite these expectations, the storm's impact surpassed predictions, proving even more catastrophic than the devastating earthquake that resulted in over 2,000 fatalities in Morocco, a neighboring country in the same region.
The Eastern-based Interior Ministry currently places the death toll at over 6,000 individuals, while the International Red Cross estimates that more than 10,000 people are still unaccounted for in the aftermath of the floods. According to Tamer Ramadan of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, “The death toll is huge and might reach thousands." He said later Tuesday that more than 40,000 people have been displaced. The coastal town of Derna has been particularly hard-hit, with a substantial portion of its infrastructure washed away by the floodwaters. Eyewitness accounts describe harrowing scenes of bodies floating in the water and scattered throughout affected areas.
The city of Derna bore the brunt of the disaster, particularly after the rupture of two dams located upstream. The dams released an estimated 30 million cubic meters (approximately 39 million cubic yards) of water, creating a torrent that surged through the city, which has a population of around 100,000 residents.
The water's devastating trajectory followed the course of Wadi Derna, cascading from the mountains to the sea. According to Deputy Mayor Ahmed Madroud, the city's structural layout unfortunately positioned the majority of its population directly in the water's path. Compounding the situation was the fact that the dams had been neglected for over two decades. Consequently, the city's existing infrastructure was ill-equipped to withstand the onslaught brought on by the recent floods, as noted by Madroud.
This catastrophe underscores the critical importance of proactive infrastructure maintenance and disaster preparedness, particularly in regions vulnerable to such natural calamities. The lack of upkeep for key infrastructure components like dams has laid bare the severe and far-reaching consequences of such negligence. It is imperative that going forward, both local and national authorities reevaluate and invest in the city's and, by extension, the country's disaster resilience measures.
It is suspected that multiple bodies may have been carried out to the Mediterranean Sea by the powerful currents. Additionally, there is growing concern that hundreds could be buried beneath the rubble, further complicating rescue and recovery efforts.
Emergency response teams and government personnel are already on-site in the impacted regions, conducting urgent search and rescue operations for survivors and recovering bodies. Given the involvement of water in this Libyan disaster, the urgency of these efforts cannot be overstated; each passing minute is critical.
International solidarity has been forthcoming, with offers of assistance for rescue missions and disaster management extending from countries in the immediate region, Europe, and other parts of the globe. France, for example, has committed to initiating its support within a 48-hour timeframe. Moreover, given the ongoing rescue mission in Morocco, crisis response units are already mobilized and active in the region, which may expedite the deployment of additional resources.
Khalifa Haftar, the de facto leader of Eastern Libya, has acknowledged the enormity of the catastrophe, stating, "The damage is huge; it's hard to measure it." The scale of the disaster has overwhelmed the government's ability to respond adequately, underscoring the importance of international cooperation in these critical early stages of rescue and recovery.
Natural Disaster for a Divided Country
The governance structure in Libya, characterized by two rival administrations, poses unique challenges in disaster response and management. While the primary concern in such situations is humanitarian, the efficacy of relief efforts is invariably influenced by political decisions and the coordination of humanitarian interventions. The ongoing political rivalry, coupled with intricate alliances and counter-alliances, means that Libya may be unable to fully utilize its domestic capabilities in disaster management before external assistance becomes available.
The country's divided governance since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi has resulted in an inadequately resourced health sector. Governmental focus has predominantly been on enhancing physical security, driven by a domestic power struggle. This has led to disproportionate investments in security forces and equipment, often at the expense of vital sectors such as healthcare. In the wake of catastrophic events like the recent flooding, a robust health infrastructure is essential for saving lives and mitigating long-term impact.
Furthermore, Eastern Libya has historically lagged behind in terms of development. Under Gaddafi, the region was primarily a center of resistance against the regime, resulting in the Western parts of the country receiving a greater share of development facilitated by Libya's oil wealth. This uneven distribution of resources is likely to affect the region's ability to rebuild, despite ongoing efforts to bridge this developmental gap.
Another complicating factor in the situation is the geopolitics of aid reception. Normally, governments affected by natural disasters are generally receptive to assistance, even from countries with which they have strained relationships. However, given that the rival Libyan governments are backed by different international supporters, the Eastern-based administration may exercise selective acceptance of the aid being offered. Such selectivity, refusal, or ambivalence toward external assistance could significantly impede both immediate relief efforts and long-term recovery strategies.
A Way Forward
First and foremost, the Eastern-based government should extend an invitation to the Tripoli-based government for collaborative efforts in early response and disaster management. Given their geographical proximity and the logistical advantages that come with it, such cooperation is not just practical but essential. This collaboration could also serve as a catalyst for improved relations between the rival administrations, particularly in the realms of humanitarian aid, environmental issues, and other non-political matters.
Immediate attention must be given to the provision of essential supplies and psychological support to the survivors. Despite appearing overwhelmed, the government has an unequivocal responsibility to ensure the well-being of its citizens by providing basic necessities such as water, food, and shelter. Moreover, given the staggering number of fatalities and missing persons, survivors will inevitably require counseling and psychological assistance, the provision of which should be considered a priority and will necessitate a sustained effort.
Simultaneously, planning for the reconstruction of affected areas should commence even as early response initiatives are underway. Efficient utilization of the region's resources is paramount in this regard. The destruction in Derna is extensive, with approximately a quarter of the city severely impacted. Reconstruction efforts are not merely infrastructural imperatives but also critical for maintaining social stability in the medium term. While the implementation may be a prolonged process, initiating planning measures should be expedited.
The issue of internal security should not be overlooked during this period of crisis. There is a risk of criminal elements exploiting the situation for looting and petty theft, and the government must take adequate measures to thwart such activities.
The current disaster represents Libya's most severe crisis since the civil war and subsequent skirmishes. The effectiveness of its management could either exacerbate the country's precarious stability or contribute to its improvement.
This pivotal moment calls for thoughtful deliberation on Libya's future, and provides an opportunity for its people to rediscover the strength that can be found in unity.
Immediate Safety and Response Guidance for Flooding Catastrophes
Based on best practices established byrecognized disaster response agencies, the following guidance is provided for immediate action in the aftermath of severe flooding.
Listen to Local Alerts: Stay updated with the latest emergency instructions through local radio, television, and official social media channels.
Secure Important Documents: Place essential documents in a waterproof container. Have digital backups when possible.
Charge Devices: Ensure that your mobile phones and other communication devices are fully charged.
Follow Official Routes: Do not attempt shortcuts as they may be dangerous or impassable.
Avoid Floodwaters: Do not walk, swim, or drive through flooded areas. Just six inches of moving water can knock an adult off their feet.
Move to Higher Ground: Go to the designated evacuation centers or any high ground area that is not affected by floods.
Upon Arrival to a Safe Location
Register with Authorities: If possible, make your presence known to relevant agencies for headcount and further assistance.
Seek Medical Attention: If injured or unwell, immediately seek medical support at the facility.
Essential Needs and Psychological Support
Water, Food, and Shelter: These are non-negotiable and must be provided. Emergency rations will be distributed at safe locations.
Counseling and Psychological Support: With the significant number of casualties, it’s critical for survivors to have psychological first aid. Trained personnel will be available for counseling.
Emergency Assistance and Safety Support Agencies
Local Emergency Services: Dial the local emergency number for immediate rescue and assistance.
International Assistance: For organizations with international presence, contact your country’s embassy for advice and support.
Emergency Assistance Providers: For organizations that have partnered with both emergency assistance response providers and insurance providers, immediate action is essential during emergency situations. The first step should be to promptly establish contact with the designated point of contact within the emergency assistance provider's organization. Concurrently, notify the relevant insurance point of contact to apprise them of the situation and any potential claims. Adherence to pre-established emergency response protocols is crucial, and it is advisable to coordinate closely with both providers for advisory actions, resource allocation, and claim documentation. This integrated approach ensures a streamlined, comprehensive, and effective emergency response.
Red Cross and Other NGOs: These organizations usually have hotlines and online platforms for immediate disaster response support.
Infrastructure and Environment Risk Awareness
Report Damage: Inform local authorities about infrastructure damage like burst dams, compromised bridges, or road blockages for immediate action.
Planning for Reconstruction: Even during the early response phase, communicate with both local and national governments regarding long-term plans for reconstruction.
Infrastructure Damage: Significant damage to critical infrastructure, including water supply, drainage systems, electrical grids, and other life-support systems, is highly likely to occur in emergency situations. It is essential to develop a robust mitigation plan both individually and within your group to address these challenges. Establish protocols for backup water and power supplies, create emergency drainage solutions, and outline contingency procedures for other vital systems to ensure sustained functionality. This proactive approach is key for managing the adverse effects on critical infrastructure effectively.
Monitor news and advisories from trusted authorities, be aware of the potential for misinformation or false updates from non-verified sources.
Report Suspicious Activities:
Immediately notify local authorities of any unusual or suspicious activities.
Document incidents and share reports with organizational security teams for situational awareness.
Status and Location Awareness:
Always inform your immediate team and organizational security of your location, particularly when moving to new or higher-risk areas.
Utilize location-sharing technology as per organizational guidelines.
Communicate with Organizational Security Teams:
Regularly check in to provide status updates.
Coordinate with security teams for risk assessments and advice before undertaking high-risk activities.
Effective Use of Emergency Response Resources:
Familiarize yourself with the organization’s emergency response plan and resources.
Ensure that all communication devices are fully charged and functional for effective utilization of emergency response services.
Maintain Situational Awareness:
Be conscious of your surroundings, noting any unusual or potentially dangerous situations.
Share this information with both local authorities and organizational security teams.
Secure Personal and Company Assets:
Ensure that personal belongings and company equipment are securely stored.
Utilize any available security infrastructure, such as lockboxes or secure rooms, in accordance with organizational guidelines.
Compliance with Local Laws and Regulations:
Be aware of and comply with all local laws concerning personal and organizational security.
Coordinate with legal and compliance teams to ensure all activities are within the bounds of local and international laws.
Adhere to Safety Protocols:
Always follow established safety protocols, both organizational and local, when participating in any activities or movements.
Ensure team members are also adhering to these guidelines for collective safety.
By incorporating the above considerations into your emergency response plan, organizations and indivdiuals will be able to develop a response protocal that fosters situational awareness, effective communication, and the judicious use of resources.
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