Libya is vulnerable and ill-prepared: ‘Security not a priority’ 12:15 Abroad There is little infrastructure maintenance in Libya. Climate change may also play a role in the disaster. It is located in one of the most vulnerable regions in the world.

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The damage in Derna after large amounts of water washed through the city
Natural disaster Libya
NOS News
  • Eliane Lamper

    editor Online

  • Eliane Lamper

    editor Online

Libya was hit last weekend by the country’s deadliest natural disaster ever. At least 5,500 people were killed in the coastal city of Derna, and possibly many more. Another 20,000 people are missing. The United Nations calls it a tragedy where “climate and capacity” have collided.

In a short time, a huge amount of rain was poured over northeastern Libya. In the city of al-Bayda, near Derna, a record of 414 millimeters fell in one day. That is more than falls in the Netherlands in the entire autumn.

The driver of the storm was Storm Daniel, which previously caused a lot of flooding in Greece and Turkey. The storm is also called a ‘medicane’, a hurricane in the Mediterranean. Climate change will make them heavier and longer lasting, which can cause a lot of damage.

‘Vulnerable and unprepared’

If a country like Libya experiences extreme weather, there is a good chance that it will lead to a major disaster. “The storm shows how vulnerable and unprepared the country is,” said Malak al-Taeb, a researcher on Libyan climate policy at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

The port city of Derna was badly hit. Because two dams collapsed, a wall of water came from the mountains towards the city, sweeping away everything in its path. Entire neighborhoods disappeared into the sea.

There was no warning system or evacuation plan to limit the damage from natural disasters. Dry countries are generally little prepared for heavy rainfall. A Libyan researcher identified a high risk of flooding in Derna in a study last year, and warned that the dams needed maintenance.

The country has de facto two governments and has been a conflict zone for twelve years – since the ouster of dictator Gaddafi – where warlords fight each other and extremist militias have free rein. As a result, the government is unable to fulfill its primary tasks. “Infrastructure is poorly maintained,” says al-Taeb. “Ecological safety and climate are not a priority, while the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly tangible.”

Satellite images clearly show how devastating the storm was:

Destruction in Libya from the air

Several problems come together in Libya, but even in a country with good infrastructure, this storm and rainfall would have led to major damage, says Michiel Baatsen, climate scientist at Utrecht University. “It concerns such a huge amount of precipitation in a short time, that would cause problems everywhere.”

The weather extremes fit in with the trend of climate change and will become less unique in the future, says Baatsen. “In the Mediterranean, the summers will become even hotter and drier. These will then be followed by major storms due to the warming sea water.”

Heat waves and sandstorms

The Middle East is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world when it comes to climate change. Heat waves, prolonged drought, sandstorms and floods can make the area virtually unliveable within a few decades if governments do not take measures. The rise in sea levels makes the North African population, a large part of which lives on the coast, extra vulnerable.

This summer was the hottest ever recorded, heat records were also broken in North Africa. A temperature of 50.4 degrees was measured in Morocco. Due to increasing drought and mismanagement, the region is already experiencing the greatest water scarcity in the world.

Even if there is the will among governments to change this, the capacity is often not there, says Christian Henderson, researcher at Leiden University into politics and climate in the Middle East. “Many of these countries are struggling with high debts and do not have the money to focus on climate adaptation.” This is different in the equally dry, but rich Gulf states: the Emirates have been storing water and experimenting with crops for years.

Green energy

Internationally, there is often a lack of climate aid to these countries, the researcher says. “North Africa is seen as a place to produce sustainable energy. For example, Europe will get green energy for itself from Tunisia, but that will not protect the population against climate disasters.”

This is especially painful because the residents of these countries ultimately pay the price for the West’s high greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to climate change, says Henderson. International organizations active in the region pay little attention to this, says al-Taeb. “They mainly focus on political stability and tackling migration, not on climate change.”

  • Death toll from flood in Libya approaches 7,000, says government in Tripoli
  • Political divisions pose a major challenge to emergency response in Libya
  • Summer full of weather extremes in the Mediterranean threatens to end with a hurricane
  • Libyans in the Netherlands: ‘People have lost entire families’
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    Natural disaster Libya

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