The images of the devastation caused by Storm Daniel in eastern Libya make a great impression in the Libyan community in the Netherlands. Libyans here agree on one thing: a lot of help is needed, because the Libyan government cannot do it alone.
The death toll is 5,300, according to the government of eastern Libya, but says the number will certainly rise and possibly even double. The government of western Libya now maintains a higher death toll: 6,872. More than 10,000 people are still missing.
Libyan hospitals and emergency services cannot cope with the disaster:
Ayoub Elsheik has family in the hard-hit Derna. “Some people were on the third floor and saw their cars floating by,” he said. “80 people from our family alone are missing. I can’t even believe what happened. I live and work in Rotterdam, but I was there a few months ago. Now the whole area has been destroyed.”
No one is spared the suffering, he says. “Every one of my friends, cousins has lost someone. It’s not just one person, people have really lost entire families. My father has eleven uncles and aunts and they have all lost several family members.”
Imagine that all of Haarlem has been wiped out, it is that serious
“Dams breaking, bridges collapsing: Libya has not experienced anything like this for as long as I have been alive,” says Enaam Ahmed Ali. She grew up in the Netherlands, but most of her family lives in Libya. “But they live on the other side of the country, and fortunately they are doing well.”
Ahmed Ali, trained as a development economist and women’s representative for the Netherlands at the United Nations, has many friends from the east of the country. “People have lost their homes, but the entire infrastructure is also gone, it is really a huge disaster,” she says.
“Imagine that the whole of Haarlem has been swept away, it is that serious. It is almost comparable to a tsunami, not in height but in strength. Entire apartment complexes have simply been swept away.”
From the air you can clearly see how devastating Storm Daniel was:
According to Ahmed Ali, the fact that something like this can happen has to do with several factors. “The land is mainly based on sand, which drains away more quickly than other types of soil. But the foundations of buildings are not built on it either.”
Abdulmohaimen Amer, a data and AI entrepreneur who was born and raised in the Netherlands but has family in Benghazi and Tripoli, agrees. “The infrastructure and buildings are not built to withstand such hurricanes and floods, which is why Derna is almost completely destroyed.”
Ahmed Ali notices that there are different feelings among acquaintances and friends in Libya. “Powerlessness, sadness and defeat, but also hope, solidarity and joining forces. People look at how they can help.” Yet the help that people in Libya can provide is never enough, she says. “Especially in a country where there has been so much unrest in the last twelve years.”
Amer also sees that the government cannot solve everything. “Libya is currently doing everything it can to support Derna. But it lacks expertise and knowledge when it comes to water disasters. Help really needs to come from abroad. The damage and situation are much worse than people think.”
Elsheik, who came to the Netherlands in 2015 and works as a design consultant at Arcadis in Rotterdam: “I am now in the office, trying to work, but I am also busy with my phone all day. We are trying to set up a prayer campaign in the mosque in Rotterdam on the Middenweg. And we are organizing a fundraising campaign.”
He also points to the 1953 flood disaster, the largest natural disaster of the 20th century in the Netherlands. “I hope that people in the Netherlands can identify with this disaster in Libya. Because something we need anyway is expertise from the Netherlands in the field of water management.”
According to Amer, the Libyan government is certainly open to outside help. “The Libyan ambassador has asked the Netherlands for help with water management, because the knowledge and expertise is lacking in Libya. Outside help is really needed, otherwise there will be so many more victims.”
Elsheik notes that the Libyan people are doing a lot themselves: “What I see is that people across the country are working together to help. People are putting aside their differences and political beliefs. Everyone is standing up to provide all kinds of help to Derna. If I See, then it makes me feel better about the situation. It shows the core values of the Libyan people: being there for each other and taking care of each other.”
- Political divisions pose a major challenge to emergency response in Libya