On Sept. 10, Storm Daniel brought heavy rainfall to Libya, causing a dam collapse and catastrophic flooding in the city of Derna. The flood left up to 20,000 people dead, according to the city’s mayor.
Much of the port city was left in ruins as dams above the city burst due to the rainfall and released an estimated 30 million cubic meters of water. Waves as high as 60 feet hit the city, destroying entire neighbourhoods and turning the once-blue waters of the Mediterranean brown.
Libyan immigrant reacts to flooding
Badr Mansour is a software engineer who moved to Canada from Garyan, Libya. He was shocked when he heard about the flooding.
“It was raining dogs and cats for 24 hours … the amount of water they mentioned is more than 400 millimetres. There are two dams and the valley was full of water before even the tropical storm came,” said Mansour. “The flood happened at 3 a.m. … and most of the people were sleeping”
Mansour has a friend from Derna who is dealing with the devastation of the flood.
“The one who has died is the one who has survived. You get out of this tragedy, and then you figure out that you’re just gonna be alone. You lost all of your friends, all of your family. What are you gonna do? You actually died. That’s what I mean,” said Mansour.
As of Sept. 21, the floods are reported to have displaced 43,059 people according to UNICEF. Reports vary, but the Libyan Red Crescent has reported 11,300 deaths so far. The figure is estimated to be much higher.
“My brother went there [to Derna] just to volunteer, helping people separate some stuff like clothes and food,” said Mansour. “He told me that what’s been written in news outlets, it’s worse.”
Derna, located in Eastern Libya, has been neglected since the authoritarian Muammar Gaddafi took power in 1969. Factions in Eastern Libya opposed his rule and he responded by refusing to invest in the region. The Wadi Derna dams that collapsed had not been maintained since 2002 according to Derna’s deputy mayor, Ahmed Madroud.
The Gaddafi regime collapsed in the Arab Spring in 2011, but Libya has been plagued by civil war for more than a decade. Derna has always been a hub for political unrest. It was declared part of the Islamic State caliphate in 2014 when it was seized by militants before regional warlord General Khalifa Haftar seized it in 2015.
“After the collapse of the government in 2011 and … the conflict in 2014, our currency and economy’s crushed. Everything has gotten so expensive. Real estate is so expensive. So people couldn’t afford to buy a piece of land in a different place,” said Mansour.
Libya is still divided into eastern and western governments and lacks a strong central ruling body. Its damaged institutions and rampant corruption mean the governments are unable to provide for the population of nearly seven million.
The political division hasn’t stopped Libya’s population from coming together. Derna’s tragedy has drawn support from throughout the nation. According to Mansour, most of the aid has come from volunteers and NGOs.
“Most of the people who are helping come from different sides. The people don’t care about the government. They know there is corruption and they [the government] aren’t looking out for people’s interests,” said Mansour. “People go [help] by themselves, no one asking them to come. I know some people in the army on the eastern side. They lost a lot of friends and family members in the war, but when the flood happened, they went to help.”
Mansour is now working with the Canadian Libyan community to raise funds.
“We actually [raised almost] 13k,” he said. “After a few weeks, we’ll try to provide some therapists and psychiatrists to these people. They’re going to have trauma and no one imagines what is going to happen.”
Canada has announced that it will provide $5 million in humanitarian aid in response to the flooding in Libya. Islamic Relief Canada, which works with Dalhousie University, has been dispatching a disaster response team in Libya and working with local partners in the region. The Libyan Student Association of Canada is also collecting funds to donate to the Libyan Red Crescent.