Disastrous floods in divided Libya serve as a call for unity

Zahra el-Gerbi, a clinical nutritionist based in Benghazi, Libya, had not anticipated a significant response to her online fundraiser.

However, she felt compelled to take action after witnessing the devastating effects of the recent flooding in the eastern city of Derna, which claimed the lives of four of her relatives.

Determined to assist those displaced by the deluge, el-Gerbi took to Facebook to appeal for donations.

To her surprise, within the first thirty minutes of sharing her plea, both friends and strangers alike expressed their willingness to provide financial and material support.

The funds raised through the campaign will be utilized to address basic needs such as clothing, food, and accommodation for those affected by the natural disaster.

The profound impact of the devastating loss of over 11,000 lives has transcended individual sorrow and transformed into a powerful call for solidarity among the people of Libya.

This North African nation has been plagued by 12 years of relentless conflict and deep-seated divisions, making the need for national unity all the more urgent.

The sheer magnitude of this tragedy has intensified the scrutiny and accountability placed upon the country’s prominent political figures, who are seen by certain segments of society as the creators of this catastrophic situation.

The weight of responsibility now rests heavily on their shoulders as they navigate the complex path towards healing and reconciliation.

The oil-rich country, which has been embroiled in turmoil and division since 2014, finds itself split between rival administrations, each with its own international backing and armed militias.

This division has persisted despite multiple United Nations-led initiatives aimed at bridging the gap between the two factions.

However, on the early morning of September 11, a catastrophic event unfolded in the city of Derna, located in the eastern part of the country.

Two dams in the mountains above the city burst, unleashing a devastating flood that engulfed entire neighborhoods and resulted in the tragic loss of at least 11,300 lives, while displacing a further 30,000 people.

In the aftermath of this calamity, an outpouring of support emerged from neighboring cities such as Benghazi and Tobruk, with residents offering to accommodate those who had been displaced.

Even in the capital city of Tripoli, located 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) to the west, a hospital pledged to provide free medical treatment to the flood victims.

The solidarity exhibited by individuals like Ali Khalifa, an oil rig worker from Zawiya, who joined a convoy of vehicles heading to Derna to assist with relief efforts, exemplifies the compassion and unity that can arise in the face of tragedy.

This event serves as a stark reminder of the challenges faced by the country, but also highlights the resilience and generosity of its people.

The sentiment expressed by Mohamed al-Harari, a 50-year-old individual, resonates with a wide range of people across western, southern, and eastern Libya.

The impact of the tragedy in Derna has reverberated throughout the nation, causing anguish and pain among its citizens.

Interestingly, this disaster has led to rare instances of cooperation between the opposing administrations, as they join forces to assist those affected.

It is worth noting that just a few years ago, in 2020, these same factions were engaged in a fierce and protracted conflict.

General Khalifa Hifter’s forces had laid siege to Tripoli as part of a failed military campaign to seize the capital, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives.

Against this backdrop, it is heartening to witness military commanders from the Tripoli allied military coalition arriving in Derna to offer their support.

Claudia Gazzini, a senior Libya analyst at the International Crisis Group, acknowledges this positive development.

However, the distribution of aid to the city has been marred by disorganization, resulting in minimal supplies reaching the flood-affected areas in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

The recent disaster that has unfolded across Libya has not only brought devastation and loss, but it has also laid bare the inherent flaws within the nation’s fragmented political system.

While the catastrophe prompted a swift response from young individuals and volunteers who eagerly offered their assistance, a perplexing state of confusion emerged as the governments in the eastern and western regions failed to coordinate their efforts effectively.

Ibrahim al-Sunwisi, a respected local journalist hailing from the capital city of Tripoli, highlighted this disarray.

Furthermore, the blame for the ruptured dams has been directed towards government officials who were entrusted with their maintenance.

In a damning report released by a state-run audit agency in 2021, it was revealed that despite the allocation of over $2 million for this purpose in 2012 and 2013, the necessary upkeep had been neglected.

As the storm approached, authorities advised citizens, including those residing in vulnerable areas, to remain indoors.

This decision has faced widespread criticism, with Noura el-Gerbi, a journalist and activist who was born in Derna and happens to be a relative of el-Gerbi, the individual who initiated the online campaign for donations, asserting that those in positions of power must be held accountable.

She ominously warned that they will bear the burden of responsibility when the next flood strikes.

The tragic events that unfolded in Libya are yet another grim consequence of the country’s rampant lawlessness.

In recent times, the capital witnessed sporadic clashes between rival militia factions, resulting in the loss of at least 45 lives.

This incident serves as a stark reminder of the immense power wielded by rogue armed groups throughout Libya.

In response to mounting pressure, General Prosecutor al-Sediq al-Sour announced on Friday that an investigation would be launched into the collapse of the two dams, scrutinizing both the authorities in Derna and past governments.

However, the nation’s political leaders have thus far evaded taking responsibility for the catastrophe. Prime Minister Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah, representing Libya’s Tripoli government, acknowledged accountability for the dams’ maintenance but absolved himself and his ministers of any responsibility for the thousands of lives lost due to the flooding.

On the other hand, Aguila Saleh, the speaker of Libya’s eastern administration, characterized the flooding as an unparalleled natural disaster during a televised news conference, discouraging any inclination towards the “what if” mentality.

As the rescue and recovery efforts in Derna draw to a close, the arduous task of relocating a significant portion of the population and rebuilding the affected areas looms large, presenting Libyan authorities with a daunting challenge.

El-Gerbi, who has recently decided to close down the donations page in order to promote direct contributions to the Red Crescent, has shed light on the dire situation faced by her relatives and potentially tens of thousands of others.

She revealed that two of her uncles are currently embarking on a journey from Derna to Benghazi, seeking a better life and opportunities.

However, the challenges they face are immense, as they lack employment prospects, stable housing arrangements, and even access to basic necessities such as food.

This revelation highlights the urgent need for support and assistance in providing these individuals with the means to rebuild their lives and secure a brighter future.