Aid groups sound alarm in Libya as hopes fade for flood survivors
Aid groups warned of growing risk posed by the spread of disease that could compound the humanitarian crisis in Libya, as hopes dwindled Saturday of finding more survivors days after deadly flooding.
Sunday’s flash floods submerged the port city of Derna, washing thousands of people and homes out to sea after two upstream dams burst under the pressure of torrential rains triggered by the hurricane-strength storm.
Conflicting death tolls have been reported, with the latest issued on Saturday by the health minister of the eastern-based administration, Othman Abdeljalil, putting the number of lives lost at 3,166.
Read:At least 2,300 dead in Libya floods, thousands missing
In Al-Bayda, 100 kilometres (60 miles west of Derna, locals worked to clear roads and homes of the mounds of mud left behind by the deluge.
Aid organisations like Islamic Relief and Doctors Without Borders (MSF have meanwhile warned the upcoming period could see the spread of disease as well as grave difficulties in delivering aid to those most in need.
Islamic Relief warned of a “second humanitarian crisis” after the flood, pointing to the “growing risk of water-borne diseases and shortages of food, shelter and medicine”.
“Thousands of people don’t have anywhere to sleep and don’t have food,” said Salah Aboulgasem, the organisation’s deputy director of partner development.
“In conditions like this, diseases can quickly spread as water systems are contaminated,” he added. “The city smells like death. Almost everyone has lost someone they know.”
MSF meanwhile said it was deploying teams to the east to assess water and sanitation.
“With this type of event we can really worry about water-related disease,” said Manoelle Carton, MSF’s medical coordinator in Derna, who described efforts to coordinate aid as “chaotic”.
Read:Libya flood deaths rise as global aid effort intensifies
But the Red Cross and the World Health Organization pointed out that contrary to widespread belief, the bodies of victims of natural disasters rarely pose a health threat.
An AFP journalist in Derna said central neighbourhoods on either side of the river, which normally dries up at this time of year, looked as if a steam roller had passed through, uprooting trees and buildings and hurling vehicles onto the port’s breakwaters.
The spokesman for the eastern-based Libyan National Army, Ahmed al-Mesmari, on Friday night said the flood had affected “over 1.2 million people”.
“Everything was washed away… the waters have completely cut off the roads in these regions,” he said.
Stephanie Williams, a US diplomat and former UN envoy to Libya, urged global mobilisation to coordinate aid efforts in the wake of the flood in a social media post.
She warned of the “predilection of Libya’s predatory ruling class to use the pretext of ‘sovereignty’ and ‘national ownership’ to steer such a process on their own and in a self-interested manner”.
The United Nations launched an appeal for more than $71 million to assist hundreds of thousands in need.
“We don’t know the extent of the problem,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said Friday in Geneva, as he called for coordination between Libya’s two rival administrations — the UN-backed, internationally recognised government in Tripoli, and one based in the disaster-hit east.
Read:Fears mount of surging death toll in Libya flood disaster
The head of the eastern-based government, Oussama Hamad, said that “from Saturday, new measures will be applied in the disaster zone” to search for bodies and any survivors.
The area would be closed off to civilians and security services, he said, adding that “only Libyan and foreign search teams and investigators will have access”.
The scale of the devastation has given way to shows of solidarity, as volunteers in Tripoli gathered aid for the flood victims in the east.
“Everyone in Tripoli is mobilised, and they’re bringing us goods. Tomorrow, we hope that aid will be sent to Derna,” said Mohamed Omar Benour, one of the volunteers. “We hope everything goes well, and may God help everyone.”
Teams from the Libyan Red Crescent were “still searching for possible survivors and clearing bodies from the rubble in the most damaged areas” of Derna, its spokesman Tawfik Shoukri told AFP on Friday.
Other teams were trying to deliver much-needed aid to families in the eastern part of the city, which had been spared the worst of the flooding but was cut off by road, he added.
He pointed to the “very high” level of destruction in the city but refused to give figures for the number of victims.
The International Organization for Migration meanwhile said “over 38,640” people had been left homeless in eastern Libya, 30,000 of them in Derna alone.