Libya is weak and unprepared: security is not a priority

Libya is weak and unprepared: security is not a priority
Damage to the city of Derna after large amounts of water invaded the city

Noos News

  • Eliane Lamber

    Online editor

  • Eliane Lamber

    Online editor

Last weekend, Libya was hit by the deadliest natural disaster in the country ever. At least 5,500 people were killed in the coastal city of Derna, and perhaps many more. Another 20,000 people are missing. The United Nations describes it as a tragedy in which “climate and capacity collided.”

In a short time, heavy rain fell on northeastern Libya. In the city of Al-Bayda, near Derna, a record amount of 414 mm fell in one day. This is more than falls in the Netherlands during the entire autumn season.

The storm’s driver was Storm Daniel, which had previously caused extensive flooding in Greece and Turkey. The storm is also called the Medicane, a hurricane in the Mediterranean Sea. Climate change will make them heavier and longer lasting, which can cause a lot of damage.

“Weak and unprepared”

If a country like Libya is exposed to extreme weather conditions, there is a high probability that this will lead to a major disaster. “The storm shows how weak and unprepared the country is,” said Malak Al-Tayeb, a researcher on Libyan climate policy at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

The coastal city of Derna was severely damaged. Because of the collapse of the two dams, a wall of water flowed from the mountains towards the city, sweeping away everything in its path. Entire neighborhoods disappeared into the sea.

There was no warning system or evacuation plan to limit the damage caused by natural disasters. Dry countries are usually unprepared for heavy rainfall. A Libyan researcher reported this last year study High risk of floods in Derna, and warned that dams need maintenance.

The country has two de facto governments and has been a conflict zone for twelve years – since the overthrow of dictator Gaddafi – with warlords fighting each other and extremist militias enjoying free rein. As a result, the government has become unable to carry out its basic functions. “The infrastructure is poorly maintained,” Al-Tayeb says. “Environmental safety and climate are not a priority, while the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly tangible.”

Satellite images clearly show how destructive the storm was:

Destruction in Libya from the air

Many problems combine in Libya, but even in a country with good infrastructure, this storm and rain would have caused significant damage, says Michel Batsen, a climate scientist at Utrecht University. “It’s about such a huge amount of rain in such a short time that it could cause problems everywhere.”

Batsen says extreme weather events fit the trend of climate change, and will become less unique in the future. “In the Mediterranean, summer will become hotter and drier. Large storms will then follow due to rising sea water temperatures.”

Heat waves and sand storms

The Middle East is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world when it comes to climate change. Heat waves, prolonged droughts, sandstorms and floods could make the region virtually unlivable within a few decades if governments do not take necessary measures. Rising sea levels make North Africa’s population, a large portion of which lives on the coast, more vulnerable.

This was the hottest summer on record, and heat records were broken in North Africa. A temperature of 50.4 degrees was measured in Morocco. Due to increasing drought and poor management, the region already suffers from the greatest water scarcity in the world.

Even if there is a will among governments to change this, the capacity is often lacking, says Christian Henderson, a Leiden University researcher on Middle Eastern politics and climate. “Many of these countries have high debt and do not have the money to focus on climate adaptation.” This is different in the Gulf countries, which are equally arid but rich: the UAE has been storing water and experimenting with crops for years.

green energy

The researcher says that at the international level, there is often a shortage of climate aid for these countries. “North Africa is seen as a place for sustainable energy production. For example, Europe will get green energy for itself from Tunisia, but that will not protect the population from climate disasters,” he added.

Henderson says this is especially painful because the people of these countries ultimately pay the price for the West’s high greenhouse gas emissions, which drive climate change. Al-Tayeb says that international organizations active in the region pay little attention to this matter. He added: “They are mainly focused on political stability and addressing migration, not on climate change.”

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