Global perspective Human stories

Survivors of Libya floods grapple with trauma

The floods in northeastern Libya have displaced more than 43,000 people.
© USAR Spain
The floods in northeastern Libya have displaced more than 43,000 people.

Survivors of Libya floods grapple with trauma

UN Affairs

Post-traumatic stress and anxiety has become a daily challenge for thousands of Libyans who survived Storm Daniel nearly two weeks ago, UN humanitarians warned on Thursday.

Torrential rains from Storm Daniel on 10 September burst two dams upstream from the coastal city of Derna. According to news reports, the floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city.

Thousands were killed, with many dead bodies still reportedly under the rubble or lost at sea, according to search teams.  

In recent days the aid response has focused on collecting the dead, fearing the spread of disease, but for the tens of thousands of Derna residents who survived the flood, trauma and uncertainty is also a pressing concern said the UN aid coordination office (OCHA).

Psychological Aid

Providing psychosocial support is a priority for those living in the eastern Libya – where the UN estimates that at least 4,000 are believed to have been killed when the storm battered Derna - the UN humanitarian affairs coordination office (OCHA) said on Thursday.  

According to the agency, more than 43,000 people have been displaced by the floods. Most of them are staying with relatives in nearby areas, while some 2,780 people have traveled to Benghazi.

So much grief

On a two-day visit to Benghazi, Georgette Gagnon, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator met families who fled their flood-ravaged homes and sought safety in Benghazi, 250 kilometers away. They spoke of their loss, and of their concern both for their children’s education and of the unknown.

“It’s heart-wrenching to hear what families have gone through and the severe distress they have endured,” Ms. Gagnon said. “The mental toll is very high, and support is urgently needed to help people heal.”

In a compound a half-hour drive away from central Benghazi, She met a family of five who had arrived four days earlier. They said they found themselves in waist-deep water within seconds.

All their belongings were swept away, and they barely made it out of their home alive. Their house is gone, as are many on their street.

In addition to medical care, disease control and prevention, and the testing and analysis of water sources, psychosocial support has been identified as one of the priority needs for affected people, according to an assessment by UN agencies who were recently in Albaydha, Derna and Sousse.

Agencies on the ground

There has been some solace found by people who have recovered and identified relatives’ bodies. At least they were able to give them a proper burial.  

But with some 10,000 still missing, the mystery of those people’s fate has Derna residents left behind battling with anxiety.

UN Humanitarian agencies, including Children’s Fund UNICEF, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), The World Food Programme (WFP), The World Health Organization (WHO) and migration agency IOM), are all on the ground in Libya, providing aid to survivors in the hard-hit areas and neighboring regions.