In eastern Libya, chaos continues. A week after devastating floods caused by the rupture of two dams under the pressure of the torrential rains of storm Daniel, rescue operations continue, while the toll, still provisional, is extremely heavy. According to the latest official count of the Ministry of Health, released Monday, September 18, some 3,338 people died in the disaster. For its part, the UN estimates the number of missing at nearly 10,000.
As the sea continues to carry bodies on the ground and many bodies still need to be pulled from the rubble, the UN warned Monday that its agencies were working to prevent the spread of disease, especially in Derna.
"The [World Health Organization (WHO)] team continues to work to prevent the spread of diseases and avoid a second devastating crisis in the region," said the UN, whose agencies are "all concerned about the risk of spreading diseases, including contaminated water and lack of hygiene."
Read alsoWhy were the floods in Libya so deadly?
"All water access points are damaged"
Death is everywhere, the sea continues to carry bodies, the smell of corpses, which still has to be pulled out of the rubble, is omnipresent. Olivier Routeau, director of operations for Première Urgence Internationale (PUI), whose teams operate in El Beïda, 75 kilometers west of Derna, confirms an "extraordinary situation, catastrophic".
The risks mentioned by the UN agencies concern above all drinking water. In particular, WHO has called for an end to the use of mass graves, which pose a serious health risk if bodies are buried near water points.
"This gesture is not only aimed at managing the distress of the population, but it is also motivated by the fear that these remains constitute a health risk," the WHO said in a statement, adding that this approach can be harmful to the population.
"Given the number of deaths and the destruction of infrastructure, this is a major issue," explains Olivier Routeau on our antenna. "Cities are still left to their own devices because aid has not arrived, so people are organizing themselves without necessarily having all the skills on risk management and anticipation."
"For your safety, it is forbidden to use or drink water from the local network, because it is polluted by flooding," the Libyan Center for Disease Control warned.
In Derna, 150 people were reportedly contaminated by polluted water, and 55 children died of poisoning after consuming the unclean water, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"All water access points are damaged, which is becoming a major risk," says Olivier Routeau.
Access to water, food and medicine, are now the priority of NGOs on the ground, including PUI, which says it is carrying out work to restore access to services, and not civil security work, and whose challenge today is to "save the living".
"The huge stakes" in Libya: "save the living", provide humanitarian aid for 250,000+ inhabitants © France24
Psychological assistance, "poor relation of emergency response"
On the English antenna of France 24, Florent Del Pinto, head of the Emergency Operations Center at the International Federation of Red Cross Societies, insists for his part on the psychological support provided to the populations, "families having to face terrible traumas".
For PUI, present in Benghazi since 2017, emergency psychological care is also a necessity. "It is sometimes the poor relation, the forgotten one of the emergency response," laments Olivier Routeau. However, he says, "we must be able to accompany these people and help them to survive psychologically from this trauma".
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In a Libya where political chaos has reigned since the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the organization of relief efforts and the work of NGOs remain complicated. The country is ruled by two rival administrations vying for power: one in Tripoli (west), led by Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah and recognized by the UN, and the other in the east of the country, embodied by the Parliament of Tobruk and affiliated with the camp of the powerful Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
This situation has no effect for the Red Cross, explains Florent Del Pinto, citing the "neutrality" of the organization. "We coordinate with the governing body on the ground where we operate," he said.
Faced with the scale of the disaster, the rival camps seem in any case to have put their quarrels on hold. Large aid and rescue teams have been sent from Tripoli to the affected areas.
On Monday, the Tripoli government also announced the launch of work for the construction of a "temporary bridge" over the wadi that runs through Derna, the two banks of the city being cut off since the waves washed away the four structures that connected them.
However, for the population those responsible for the chaos are all found. On Monday, hundreds of Dernaouis demonstrated outside the city's Grand Mosque, chanting slogans hostile to the eastern authorities, and demanding accountability from parliament, including its leader, Aguilah Saleh.
Residents of the flood-ravaged city of Derna in eastern Libya protest outside the Al Sahaba Mosque against the government, September 18, 2023. © Zohra Bensemra, Reuters
"The people want the fall of Parliament", "Aguila (Saleh) is the enemy of God", "the blood of martyrs is not shed in vain", or "those who have stolen or betrayed must be hanged", they chanted.
In a statement read during the protest on behalf of "the residents of Derna", they called for "a swift investigation and legal action against those responsible for the disaster".
According to experts, the political situation in Libya has overshadowed the issue of maintaining vital infrastructure, such as the Derna dams, whose collapse is at the root of the tragedy experienced by the population.
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