Libya’s flood: who bears the victims?

Graphic by Lily Cowper/@lilycowper

Storm Daniel meets Libya’s fractured infrastructures and political landscape, revealing a calamity molded by natural and unnatural causes.

Last September, flooding caused by Storm Daniel swept away entire communities and led to  over 10,000 people reported dead in Libya.  However, is the environment the only factor to blame? Libya’s tumultuous political landscape shows that this catastrophe was only partly due to the environment. The alarming death toll stems from the convergence of politics and climate change.

The heavy rain and flooding in the eastern part of Libya were brought by medicanes, which are a result of low pressure areas in the Mediterranean Sea that convert into tropical cyclones. While Storm Daniel set meteorological records in Africa, the collapse of two major dams only intensified the consequences of this natural disaster. These vital infrastructures had not been maintained since 2002.

Within those dam cracks lies the story of a state marked by a decade of civil war and NATO’s military intervention.  

Libya was once the most prosperous country in Africa, with complimentary healthcare and education to all, assured housing for every citizen and subsidized access to electricity, water and gasoline. Notably, the nation recorded the highest life expectancy across the continent. 

Dictator Muammar Gaddafi led a socialist regime until 2011 when protests broke out. Armed forces firing into the crowd sparked a national uprising, prompting the United Nations’ approval for “all necessary measures” to protect civilians. This support, including a NATO bombing campaign backing the rebels, led to the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime. In the wake of power vacuums, internal conflicts gained international support resulting in an influx of foreign weapons and a sequence of proxy wars.

The socio-political history of Libya holds a lot of mixed emotions. During Gaddafi’s era, it began with acknowledgements from the United Nations Human Rights Council recognizing improvements in the country’s human rights practices. This initial optimism was soon overshadowed by citizens looking to emancipate themselves from a regime that had been in place for over 30 years. Backed by NATO’s militia, they traded an unelected and corrupt regime for two rival governments battling for power and control of the country. 

The dam collapses are a mere fragment of the chaos resulting from Western-initiated regime change and the broader disorder post-Gaddafi. Public Water Commission experts warned the central infrastructure agency about the aging dams. Unfortunately, these warnings were overseen by corrupt authorities under Gaddafi-regime at the time. Amid a civil war, the Turkish company hired to repair the dams left the country, pocketing millions of dollars for preliminary work and leaving behind the dangerous dams and Derna’s population.

Libyan citizens caught between regional fissures and international intervention were victims of a political stalemate that only contributed to the latest catastrophe. After Storm Daniel, the residents of Derna mourn thousands of lives and hold onto the hope that their grief can serve as a unifying force for their nation.  

Were the floods solely an outcome of the environment? While Mother Nature played a part, Libyan citizens must endure the consequences of this failed state.

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