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Floods in Libya: No warning



When mobile phones beeped nationwide on Thursday of this week, it was good news: it was just a test. After all, German civil protection has made important progress in this area within three years: it is now almost certainly guaranteed that most people will notice when a disaster is warned in their region, even in their sleep.

Mobile phones switched to "Do Not Disturb" also emitted loud warning tones that would probably even wake up someone who sleeps with earplugs. However, even this time it did not work with all mobile phones.

A downpour that just won't stop

The importance of well-functioning warning systems has been demonstrated by the two extreme rain disasters in Greece and Libya that storm "Daniel" has just caused. In the Greek plain of Thessaly, more than 18 litres of rain per square metre fell in some places within 750 hours. To put it bluntly, that's about four bathtubs full. Per square meter. Another comparison: In the Ahr Valley disaster, which killed at least 2021 people in 135, 100 to 200 liters per square meter fell within two to three days.

"Imagine the most extreme downpour you've ever experienced, which would normally last maybe 20 minutes. And now imagine that it rains just as hard, but without interruption, for a whole day." This is how Ioanna Stamataki, an engineering scientist specializing in water technology from the University of Greenwich, described the event in Greece.

Washed into the sea

The images from Thessaly look apocalyptic: some villages were under water up to the edges of their roofs. And yet, which seems almost miraculous in such a catastrophe, there were relatively few fatalities. Why? Because Greece apparently has an excellently functioning early warning system, which also relies on buzzing and beeping mobile phones. At least fifteen people died anyway. Some because they apparently stayed in their homes despite the warnings, others because they were traveling in their cars despite the warnings and were washed into the sea.

The fifteen deaths – and gigantic economic damage – in Greece are offset by many thousands of deaths in Libya, where storm "Daniel" had moved from Greece. It may never be known how many people have actually died, because Libya is in chaos even without weather disasters – and has been for more than ten years. Despite the fact that the devastating storm had already swept across Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece, there appeared to be virtually no warning in Libya.

Thessaly and the devastated Libyan city of Darna will probably go down in the history of our disaster century as examples of disaster resilience on the one hand and disaster vulnerability on the other.

Avalanches of water, debris and debris

Darna's mayor, Abdel-Moneim al-Gheithy, told a TV station on Wednesday that the number of victims may end up at 20,000. Two dams broke in the city, and it is located on a so-called alluvial fan or alluvial cone. This is the name given to a landscape that is formed at the foot of mountain ranges by loose rock and boulders carried down into the valley by rivers and streams. Such regions are "ultra-dangerous" in the event of rapid flooding, an expert from the University of California told the New York Times. Then such extreme rain turns into destructive avalanches of water, debris and debris that sweep away everything in their path.

The very different effects of the disasters in Greece and Libya despite the same circumstances therefore have a whole range of causes: different political circumstances, different buildings, different landscapes – and very different early warning systems. The residents of Darna were apparently completely surprised that the dams that were supposed to protect them were broken.

But these dams were probably dilapidated and also built for another, bygone climatic age: In Darna, about one and a half liters of rain per square meter usually fell during the whole month of September. "Daniel" produced 414 litres per square metre in just a few hours.

World Warning Week

This week's German test warning day was apparently a success. However, there is still room for improvement: Germany's sirens, for example, still cannot be switched on from a central location. The president of the Federal Office for Population Assistance and Disaster Control (BBK) said this week that this should be possible "in a few months" for at least some of the estimated 38,000 sirens in the country.

The comparatively low number of victims in the face of the huge catastrophe in Greece shows how important, useful and effective such early warning systems can be. However, the economic damage, the despair of people who have lost their homes, all their belongings, their homes, can neither be prevented nor cured in this way.


Christian Stöcker

The Great Acceleration

Publisher: Pantheon

Number of Pages: 384

Publisher: Pantheon

Number of Pages: 384

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The climate crisis – it is indisputable that the record-breaking heat of water and air is largely responsible for these disasters – will continue to strike regularly with local weather disasters.

Nor is it just the climate crisis that is bringing with it ever-increasing risks. According to a report published this week by high-ranking scientists, we humans have now exceeded "planetary boundaries" with our behavior in six out of nine areas. Freshwater consumption, microplastics, species extinction, land use (read, among other things: deforestation), over-fertilization - and the climate crisis.

We are currently creating new risk factors at record speed, which also interact with each other. 2023 is a warning year.

We will urgently need alert systems, preparedness, civil protection and resilience. Above all, humanity urgently needs to change direction – and fast.