Miral Sabry AlAshry

The coastal city of Derna, located in the northeastern region of Libya, was struck by catastrophic floods last year, leaving the local community devastated and mourning their losses. The floods resulted in over 11,300 deaths, with many more still missing.

The flood caused widespread destruction, severely impacting homes and infrastructure. This natural disaster has presented significant challenges for the residents of Derna as they attempt to rebuild their lives amidst an ongoing civil war.

The Libyan authorities conducted investigations into the disaster, which confirmed negligence in the maintenance of the city’s dams. This negligence was evident in the absence of a warning system in the dams, neglect in cleaning the upper openings, and a lack of periodic maintenance. The investigations also revealed that the drainage system in the valley was not functioning properly due to years of accumulated silt without any maintenance. Additionally, cracks were discovered in the two dams.

Fourteen individuals, including the mayor of Derna municipality and several officials from the city’s water resources and dams authority, have been arrested pending investigations. The Public Prosecution has also issued a red notice for defendants who have fled outside the country.

The investigations also highlighted the severe damage caused by the flood, which was triggered by heavy rains and overflowing rivers. Residential areas, public buildings, and vital infrastructure suffered extensive destruction. Homes were flooded, roads were washed away, and basic services like water and electricity supplies were disrupted. In the immediate aftermath of the flood, many residents were displaced and in urgent need of assistance.

Local authorities and emergency response teams are still working diligently to provide aid and support to those affected by the flood. Rescue operations, temporary shelters, and distribution of essential supplies have commenced to address the immediate needs of the community. However, the magnitude of the disaster poses a tremendous challenge that requires a coordinated and sustained effort to facilitate recovery and rehabilitation.

This is not the first incident in Derna, as the city has faced numerous difficulties. It was hijacked by political Islam militias, who covered up the tragic situation of its residents. Some of them were slaughtered, dragged, and crucified in the streets. Since February 2011, Derna has been outside the authority of the state, with political Islam militias rejecting the 2012 National Congress elections, the 2014 parliamentary elections, and even the parliamentary councils.

In 2018, the Libyan army liberated the city of Derna from the grip of Al-Qaeda. The scene quickly changed as the people returned to practicing normal life, rejoicing in their freedom from terrorism. Street movement returned to normal, without restrictions, and markets and shops witnessed rapid commercial activity after weeks of war and fear.

The residents of Derna had hoped that it would become a center for literature, culture, arts, and life, and that it would surpass the lean years of darkness. The Libyan National Army continued to secure the return of residents to the neighborhoods of the liberated city, with security units affiliated with the Ministry of Interior of the Interim Government.

Haftar indicated the “safe return of Derna to the embrace of the homeland,” declaring the beginning of “a new era of freedom, security, and peace.” The army also announced the killing of Al-Qaeda leader, Attiya Al-Shaeri, during clashes with extremists, which dealt a fatal blow to the organization.

Returning to the flood that devastated the city, it not only caused physical damage but also had a profound impact on the emotional and psychological well-being of the residents. This is not the first time they have faced such hardships, as they have also endured the loss from terrorism prior to the flood. Many individuals and families are currently grappling with the shock of losing their homes and belongings, as well as the uncertainty surrounding their future. Undoubtedly, the path to recovery will be long and challenging as society strives to rebuild and regain a sense of normalcy.

Given the crisis that Derna is facing, there is an urgent need for humanitarian assistance and support from the international community at large. Collaborative efforts to provide emergency aid, including shelter, food, and medical care, are crucial in meeting the immediate humanitarian needs. Additionally, long-term initiatives focusing on restoring infrastructure, supporting livelihoods, and providing psychosocial services will play a vital role in aiding the community’s recovery and fostering resilience.

Amidst this disaster, we must raise important questions: Was Derna a suitable city to bring residents back to after the civil war? Can those responsible be held accountable? They were brought back in 2018, amidst a civil war and a country lacking electricity and facilities.

After these disasters, Libya’s leaders were unable to achieve the most important aspirations of the people: ending the division, holding general elections, and eliminating corruption.

It was stated that the Derna Court decided to postpone the Derna floods case and judge it on January 11, after the Public Prosecution filed a criminal case against 16 people responsible for the floods in the city. This includes the head of the Derna City Reconstruction Fund and a member of the financial committee in charge of implementing the reconstruction plan.

The report focused on the collapse of the Derna dams as a matter of public concern, stating that it could have been avoided. It explained that a Swiss consulting office had recommended modifications and maintenance to the two dams since 2003, but this was not done during Gaddafi’s government. The former head of the Water Resources Authority, the director of the Dams Administration, their predecessors, and the head of the Dams Maintenance Department in the Eastern Region failed to provide any defense for their administrative and financial mismanagement. Surprisingly, some of those accused in the Derna disaster are currently abroad.

The most important question now arises: Will they be tried, and if so, how can they be brought to justice in the absence of a government or judiciary? The report clarified that the ruling was made against them in absentia, arrest warrants were issued, and the prosecution has started requesting a red notice from Interpol.

The events in Derna serve as a poignant reminder of the vulnerability of communities to natural disasters and the importance of preparedness and response. As the city grapples with the aftermath of the flood, it is crucial that we continue to provide attention and support to aid in the recovery and reconstruction efforts. The road ahead will undoubtedly be filled with challenges, but with concerted effort and solidarity, the Derna community can begin to recover and rebuild in the wake of this devastating flood.


Prof. Miral Sabry AlAshry is Co-lead for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at the Centre for Freedom of the Media, the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield.


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