Devastating floods in the coastal Libyan city of Derna caused by the breaching of two dams on September 10 have left a staggering 11,300 people dead and another 10,100 missing. The dams were breached after Storm Daniel hit the eastern coast of Libya, leading to heavy rains and flooding across several cities in the region, with the storm causing the deaths of an estimated 170 people across the rest of the country as well. The flooding in Derna appears to have been on an apocalyptic scale. The whole landscape of the city has been altered with entire buildings and the people residing in them swept away by the floods. Given the scale of the devastation, the mayor of Derna has said that the death toll in Derna could almost double to 20,000 as the search for the missing continues, which will likely be complicated by the fact that many are reported to have been swept out to sea. Reports say that aid and rescue efforts are also being complicated by Libya’s deep political divides, with the country having been at war intermittently since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by a Nato-backed uprising in 2011. The oil-rich country was once among the most prosperous in Africa but, according to some, years of civil war have left it with a divided and weak government that is not well-placed to respond to disasters of this scale.
In the aftermath of the disaster, a government minister is reported to have admitted that one of the dams that burst had not gone through maintenance for some time. It has also been reported that Derna lacked even one official hospital due to decades of neglect reaching back to the Gaddafi era. That being said, a years-long civil war is unlikely to have been conducive to maintaining infrastructure, developing a social welfare network and running the country, in general. What has happened in Derna underscores the fact that aside from the devastation that war itself causes, it also leaves countries more vulnerable to events like natural disasters and public-health emergencies while also leaving them more exposed to the consequences of poor governance.
In a Global South that is increasingly being battered by global warming and the erratic and dangerous weather patterns it is fueling, countries need strong, stable governments capable of addressing the concerns of the people more than ever. These are exactly the kinds of governments that past Western-backed military adventures and interventions have not led to and will not lead to going forward. The injustice of the situation is only heightened by the fact that it is the West that is the primary emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses leading to global warming and events like Storm Daniel and the fact that right-wing movements are on the rise in many Western countries demonizing immigrants from the global south escaping the very wars and natural calamities that the West has helped create. One could reasonably argue that what has happened in Libya is a man-made disaster as much as it is a natural one.