★ Libya’s Dam Catastrophe: Years of Neglect Culminate in a Tragedy of Biblical Proportions
By ALMOUTASSIM Al KILANI & Rania Kisar
September 18, 2023
Derna has a history of flooding, marked by significant events in 1941, 1959, and 1968. The 1959 flood prompted studies that recommended dam construction. A Yugoslavian company built two dams in the 1970s in response. The upper ‘Country Dam’ could hold 1.5 million cubic meters, while the lower ‘Abu Mansour Dam’ had a 22.5 million cubic meter capacity. Both were built with clay cores and stone perimeters (BBC).
By 1998, cracks had appeared in these dams, signaling a pattern of neglect. These structural deficiencies ultimately caused the dam’s failure and devastating floods in eastern Libya. Repair efforts halted in 2007 due to funding shortages following the fall of the Gaddafi regime, despite the presence of allocated budgets (Al Jazeera).
It is worth noting that the Wadi Derna dams collapsed because they held more water than they were designed for, exacerbated by rainfall exceeding 200 mm. Remarkably, these dams had successfully managed water levels during floods in 1986, sparing the city from significant damage.
Timeline of Events: Watch Video
★ Sept 11, 2023: Destruction in Eastern Libya After Storm Daniel: A Plea for Rescuing the Affected (Al Araby, BBC). “Storm Daniel devastates eastern Libya; thousands dead. Derna is the most brutally hit; according to Red Crescent estimates, about 10,000 people have been reported missing, and the number of victims is expected to increase.
★ Sept 12, 2023: Post-Storm Scenes in Eastern Libya: Bodies and Destroyed Homes (Al Jazeera, BBC). Hurricane Daniel: Over 5,000 dead, widespread city destruction, power outages, and grief in Libya’s worst disaster in more than 40 years.
★ Sept 13, 2023: UN Mobilizes Aid for Libya (Al Jazeera). After Hurricane Daniel, the UN mobilized aid for Libya, partnering with Arab nations and allocating millions for relief efforts.
★ Sept 14, 2023: Crisis in Libya Deepens as Children Suffer and Governance Fails (Al Jazeera, BBC, UNICEF). According to UNICEF, around 300,000 children in eastern Libya urgently require humanitarian aid in the wake of Storm Daniel. Concurrently, the Assembly has called for an international inquiry, blaming neglect on Tripoli and Benghazi. Shortages in Sousse, Al-Arakoub, and Al-Wardia underscore the urgent need for specialized aid teams in east Derna. Activists are pressing for swift recovery efforts for flood victims. Meanwhile, a BBC report criticizes Tripoli and Haftar’s governments for prioritizing politics over the well-being of their citizens, spotlighting the longstanding issues of corruption, turmoil, and neglected infrastructure that have left eastern authorities unprepared for a disaster.
★ Sept 15, 2023: Sharp Rise in Libyan Casualties to 11,300 (Sky News). On Friday, Libyan authorities restricted civilian access to the flood-stricken city of Derna to facilitate search efforts for 10,100 people still unaccounted for, following a death toll increase to 11,300.
★ Sept 16, 2023: Shocking Visuals from Libya: Sea Washes Ashore Bodies of Flood Victims in Derna, Exposing Gravitas of Crisis (Sky News, Al Hadath). Additionally, the Government of National Unity in Tripoli has revealed suspicions of corruption in dam maintenance. Grim footage from Libya showed the sea washing ashore the bodies of flood victims in Derna. Local authorities struggle with the overwhelming number of bodies and insufficient burial spaces. The clips depicted the sea’s waves carrying bodies to the shoreline, where locals collected them for burial or identification.
★ Sept 17, 2023: UN Warns of Worsening Conditions at Wadi Jaza and Qatara Dams Near Benghazi (Alwasat). Despite conflicts over the status of the dams, authorities claim they are stable.
★ Sept 18, 2023: Epidemics, Mines, Water Shortages Hinder Derna Rescue Ops (Al Hadath). Libyan rescue teams face obstacles as operations extend into a second week in Derna. Disinfection starts amid disease outbreak fears and dispersed land mines. Libyan officials report 3,280 confirmed deaths, challenging the UN’s 11,000 figure. Displaced residents resort to makeshift shelters; contaminated water causes poisonings.