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Libya: Humanitarian response ramps up as floods of 'epic proportions' leave thousands dead

Flooding has struck northeastern regions of Libya.
© National Meteorological Centre, Libya
Flooding has struck northeastern regions of Libya.

Libya: Humanitarian response ramps up as floods of 'epic proportions' leave thousands dead

Climate and Environment

UN agencies and partners are responding to the disaster unfolding in eastern Libya after extreme rainfall caused devastating flooding and loss of life over the weekend, humanitarians told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.

Latest figures as of Tuesday night, suggest there could be more than 5,000 people dead and around 10,000 have been reported missing in the massive floods triggered by Hurricane Daniel, which overwhelmed the eastern parts of the country at the weekend, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said.

We stand in solidarity with Libya: Guterres

In a statement released by his Spokesperson, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his heartfelt condolences to the Libyan authorities and the families of those who have perished,

“At this time, our thoughts are with the thousands of people being affected there in their communities, we stand in solidarity with all people in Libya during this difficult time”, said Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, briefing reporters in New York.

He said the UN team on the ground is responding at the site.

“Furthermore, we are mobilizing resources and emergency teams to support those affected people and are working with local, national, and international partners to get urgently needed humanitarian assistance to people in the affected areas.”

The UN is working with Libyan authorities to assess needs and support ongoing relief efforts, he added.

Libya is in effect under the control of two rival administrations, the internationally recognized Government in Tripoli, and authorities based along with the parliament in the east. 

Neighbourhoods swept away

According to the UN weather agency WMO, two dams burst during heavy storms over the weekend, sweeping entire neighbourhoods in the city of Derna into the sea.

The floodwaters reached a peak in northeastern Libya on Sunday, with strong winds of up to 80 kilometres per hour, interrupting communications and bringing down electricity towers and trees.

Torrential rains caused flash flooding in several cities.

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“The humanitarian needs are huge and much more beyond the abilities of the Libyan Red Crescent, and even beyond the abilities of the Government”, stressed Tamar Ramadan, head of the IFRC delegation in Libya, who was speaking from Tunis via videoconference.

“That’s why the Government in the east has issued an international appeal for support.”

Margaret Harris, spokesperson for the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said the flooding was of “epic proportions”.

“There’s not been a storm like this in the region in living memory, so it’s a great shock,” she said.

Prepositioned aid

Dr. Harris added that WHO has deployed prepositioned aid supplies to the affected areas. She estimated that torrential rain affected up to 1.8 million people and damaged and even “wiped out” some hospitals.

“The work now is really to get in supplies, sadly some of those supplies are things like body bags, but also trauma kits,” the WHO spokesperson said.

The Libyan Government has announced three days of mourning in all the affected cities, calling them ″disaster areas.″ Emergency responders, government workers and residents were digging through rubble to look for survivors.

“Our second priority is to look at the people who are displaced”, WHO’s Dr Harris said.

Already vulnerable

“There are lots of people who are already living in precarious circumstances. And we have to look at what kind of field hospitals can be set up, and what kind of mobile clinics. So there’s a great deal of work that needs to be done and is being mobilized as I speak.”

Libya has become a key springboard for migrants from over 40 countries heading for Europe, who most likely have also been severely impacted by the floods, the UN migration agency (IOM) warned.

“There are roughly 600,000 migrants in Libya at this time and we are conscious that in some of the affected areas there are migrant populations but at this early stage and [given] the many access issues that we and humanitarian responders are facing, we don’t have a clear picture about how badly they have been affected”, said IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon.