Analyzing the Libya Floods
A slight increase in global temperatures, driven by climate change, can have a devastating impact on the climate, leading to natural disasters.
The destructive floods in Libya started with intense rainfall (150 mm) from September 10th to September 11th, 2023, as storm Daniel made landfall in Benghazi, wreaking havoc in the eastern port city of Derna. Other areas in the east, including Sousa, Toukra, Tolmeita, Albayda, Shahat, and Albayadah, also faced significant impact. According to the German Weather Service, Derna, which typically receives 274 mm of rainfall annually, is unaccustomed to such heavy downpours.
This rainwater flowed downstream from the mountainous terrain to the south, converging in the Wadi Derna, a dry river alongside which the city is situated, where it is controlled by dams before meeting the sea. The combination of inadequate infrastructure and unusually heavy rainfall led to the failure of the Derna and Mansour dams, causing a destructive surge of water that swept away almost the entire city causing the death of approximately 11,300 people, as reported by Aljazeera.
Key Geographic Factors Contributing to the Floods
Extreme Weather: The extreme weather conditions, including heavy rainfall and strong winds, were a direct result of Cyclone Daniel (also known as Storm Daniel), which moved towards Libya after causing flooding in several other countries in the Mediterranean region, including Greece, Spain, Turkey, and Bulgaria. Cyclone Daniel transitioned into a ‘medicane’, a term used for tropical cyclones that form over the Mediterranean Sea.
Abnormally Warm Waters: The storm drew energy from abnormally warm Mediterranean waters, strengthening further as it approached Libya. Higher sea surface temperatures in the Mediterranean this year played a crucial role in intensifying the storm and its impacts.
Medicane Dynamics: Medicanes, tropical-like cyclones, thrive on warm ocean temperatures. As they travel across hot oceans, they accumulate more water vapour and heat, resulting in powerful winds, heavier rainfall, and increased flooding. The fact that the Mediterranean Sea was 2-3 degrees warmer this year exacerbated the situation, causing marine heatwaves, damage to marine life, coral bleaching, and intense storms.
Impact and Aftermath
As per the Libya Flooding Situation Report by the International Medical Corps (IMC) released on Nov 9, 2023:
As a result of this event, 8,500 people are missing and more than 43,000 people are still displaced leaving 84% of hospitals and 88% of primary healthcare centres either non-functional or partially functional.
The International Medical Corps has established 4 Emergency Medical Teams (EMT) which have provided 2,938 outpatient consultations by now
Moreover, their Mental Health and Psychological Support Counselors and operators are providing services through the National Helpline
According to the WHO Report (Oct 11, 2023):
Around 884,000 people need humanitarian assistance, with almost 101 Health workers’ lives were lost and 2,380 cases of acute diarrhoea and 5 cases of bloody diarrhoea (as of 6 October 2023).
WHO has distributed Inter-Agency Health Kits to 17 health centres in Derna, Albayda, Shahat, Al Bayyada and Sousa, and is supporting mobile clinics run by Première Urgence Internationale in Qaser-Libya and Almakhili
WHO has provided 11 NCD kits to PHC centres in Derna, Shahat, Albayda, Almarj and Sousa to respond to urgent needs.
As per the Displacement Tracking Matrix provided by the International Organization of Migration (IOM):
A total of four per cent of displaced individuals are in western Libya. The majority of displaced individuals (96%) are located in eastern Libyan municipalities.
The largest share of displaced individuals are in Derna (40%), Albayda (12%), Shahat (10%), Benghazi (8%), Tobruk (7%) and Labraq (6%)
Global Aid Efforts
The UN, United States, European Union and multiple Middle Eastern and North African nations pledged to send rescue teams and aid including food, water tanks, emergency shelters, medical supplies and more body bags. Humanitarian organizations like the International Rescue Committee, International Medical Corps, and Danish Refugee Council, have been providing health and protection services. Moreover, the European Commission's Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) sent Search and Rescue Teams, Emergency Medical Teams, shelter and medical items, water tanks, generators and other items to provide humanitarian assistance right after the disaster. Additionally, Norway provided NOK 25 million in life-saving assistance in the Northeastern part of Libya. The Libyan Red Crescent recently distributed non-food items to 1,600 families in Tobruk. UNHCR, IOM, NRC and WFP are further working towards setting up collective shelters for the affected population.
Libya has been in political turmoil since 2011, when forces backed by NATO overthrew the regime of Col. Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011.
Since the fall of Gaddafi, Libya split between 2 governments - The United Nations recognized Government of National Unity based in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh in the west, and the Government of National Stability in Benghazi, led by Osama Hamada in the east. It is believed that warlord General Khalifa Haftar, who leads the popular militia named Libyan National Army, holds the power in the east. The rest of Libya is entangled in conflict between numerous militias. These armed groups built local power bases and took control of economic resources.
In response to the devastating floods, both governments implemented separate precautionary measures to mitigate the damage. However, the coordination of aid from other nations faced challenges due to difficulties in negotiating with the two governments. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the United Nations (UN) urged the rival governments to collaborate in rebuilding the country, emphasizing the critical importance of cooperation in addressing this climate-induced catastrophe.
Despite the challenges, positive initiatives emerged. The Tripoli Government, as reported by the BBC, dispatched a plane carrying 14 tonnes of medical supplies, body bags, and over 80 doctors to the affected areas in the east. Additionally, armed groups stepped in, mobilizing volunteers and private vehicles loaded with essential supplies such as food, water, medicines, and bedding to aid the affected population. These efforts reflected a collective response to the crisis, showcasing solidarity in the face of the environmental disaster.
Due to the civil unrest, the infrastructure of the country was in poor condition. Protestors in Derna burnt down the house of the Mayor Abdulmenam-al-Ghaithi asking for answers for the destruction caused by the flood. People said that proper warning about the intensity of rains wasn’t provided by the authorities. Moreover, the residents were asked to stay inside instead of evacuating. They claimed that despite being given a warning about the poor condition of dams, the eastern government did nothing. The neglectful nature of the government towards the infrastructure worsened the impact of the disaster.
According to the United Nations,
Libya is the only country yet to develop a climate strategy. It has not provided Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions as outlined in the Paris Agreement. Additionally, the country has not submitted significant communications or reports for international environmental processes in recent years. This lack of involvement in international climate agreements and processes is viewed as a vulnerability in Libya's capacity to tackle climate change.
The Libya floods of 2023 serve as a poignant example of the far-reaching consequences of climate change. Extreme weather events, intensified by warming seas and changing climate patterns, can lead to unprecedented disasters, underscoring the urgency of global efforts to combat climate change and mitigate its impacts.