Two men sit in front of the ruins of Derna
AYMAN AL-SAHILI / REUTERS
More than a week after the devastating flood disaster in Libya, the situation in the east of the country is still very confusing. While the rescue and recovery work is ongoing, the authorities are taking new measures to get the disaster under control. According to the news site "Al-Marsad", the Ministry of Health of the government in the east announced that the severely affected port city of Darna has been divided into three zones. Meanwhile, the risk of disease outbreaks continued to grow.
The hardest-hit area in Darna has been declared uninhabitable. It was only allowed to be entered by rescue teams, it said. The "fragile zone" – another area that was severely flooded – also poses a danger to the inhabitants. The third and final zone has been declared safe and habitable by the ministry.
At the same time, journalists and activists reported that they had been asked to leave the disaster areas. The authorities in the east had cited a possible obstruction of the rescue work and the danger of collapsing buildings as the reason. Some suspect that reports of a demonstration from the previous evening could have been the trigger.
Despair turns into anger
As the clean-up work progresses, anger among citizens is also increasing: hundreds of angry people demanded in front of a mosque in the center of the devastated port city on Monday evening that those responsible for the disaster be held accountable, as footage from the Libyan TV station Al-Mazar showed. According to eyewitnesses, protesters tried to set fire to the house of the now suspended mayor Abdel-Monim al-Ghaiti.
As a result of storm Daniel, two dams broke in Darna. Entire neighborhoods of the city of 100,000 inhabitants were washed away by the masses of water. The authorities are accused of not properly maintaining the dams and thus contributing to the disaster. The prosecutor's office began an investigation.
According to one expert, at least one of the two dams was built of earth and not cement. "The dam that collapsed was built only of sand and stones," Claudia Gazzini of the International Crisis Group think tank wrote on Tuesday at X, formerly Twitter. "The control tower and the huge sewer were made of cement, and both are still standing."
Gazzini also published photos on X of her visit to one of the two dams about ten kilometers south of the port city of Darna. You can see the remains of a dam in a dried-up riverbed. According to a local resident, the basin filled up quickly on the evening of September 10 during the heavy rainfall, and after only five hours, water had leaked over the upper edge of the dam.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 4000 fatalities have been identified. The government in the east put the number of officially registered deaths at 3338. Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless by the disaster.
Concern about contaminated drinking water
Due to the severe flooding, the water sources in the disaster region are also heavily contaminated with wastewater. Thousands of people no longer have access to clean drinking water. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) warned of a "rapidly expanding health crisis", especially in Darna. Dozens of children have already fallen ill because of polluted water, it said.
The United Nations was also concerned. In particular, contaminated water and lack of sanitation increased the risk of disease outbreaks, said a statement from UNSMIL, the UN mission in Libya. United Nations teams are working to prevent a "second devastating crisis in the region" and the spread of disease.
Meanwhile, a team from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was also denied access to Derna. A spokeswoman confirmed the incident to the Reuters news agency.
"We can confirm that the search and rescue teams, the emergency medical teams and the UN colleagues who are already in Derna are continuing their work," OCHA spokeswoman Najwa Mekki said in an email to questions from Reuters. "However, a UN team was supposed to travel from Benghazi to Derna today, but was not given permission to continue their journey," she added, calling for unhindered access.
The EU pledged a further €5.2 million in humanitarian aid to Libya. The USA is also providing a further 11 million dollars (10 million euros).
Libya is effectively divided into two parts. The civil war country has a government in the West that is internationally recognized. In the east, where Storm Daniel has caused particularly great damage, there is a different government that is not internationally recognized. The de facto division complicates rescue operations.