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Rescue efforts held back by poor infrastructure and administrative dysfunction
The Mediterranean storms that lashed Libya's coastline on 10-11 September have destroyed two major dams and unleashed floods killing over 2,300 people in Derna, one of the biggest cities in Cyrenaica, the country's eastern region. Relief agencies fear that those casualty figures could more than triple.
Rescue efforts are being held up by the poor state of infrastructure in the region, worsened by a decade of conflict between rival militias and political partition in the wake of the overthrow of Colonel Moammar el Gadaffi in 2011.
Libya's floods are North Africa's second natural disaster in less than a week. The storm along Libya's eastern coastline blew up shortly after the worst earthquake in Morocco for over a century shook Marrakech and surrounding villages in the Atlas Mountains.
Concerns about political and economic instability exacerbated by the twin disasters raise concerns at the prospects of an accelerating brain drain and migration from North Africa across the Mediterranean (AC Vol 63 No 19, How militias police the Mediterranean for Europe).
Relief agencies are calling for a massive international effort to help people who have been cut off by the floods and desperately need medicine, drinking water and food. Some warn that the rescue efforts in Morocco, which have been ramped up after a slow start, will overstretch the region's resources.
The latest official and relief agency estimates point to horrendous casualties. Othman Abdel Jaleel, Health Minister in the eastern-based administration in Tobruk, told local television that at least 700 bodies had been identified and buried in Derna, adding that another 6,000 were missing.
The Geneva-based Federation for the International Res Crescent Red Cross told the United States-based Associated Press that at least 10,000 were missing in the wake of the storms.
Libya's fractious politics – with the eastern (Cyrenaica) government based in Tobruk and the western (Tripolitania) government based in Tripoli – could complicate rescue efforts.
Distrust between the two power centres runs high although they have paused military operations against each other and reached a temporary deal to share out oil revenues (AC Vol 63 No 16, Dubaiba woos UAE and Haftar with about-turn on oil).
Derna, which has suffered the brunt of the losses from the floods, has also been a base for some of the country's most militant Islamist groups.
About 300 kilometres west of Derna is Benghazi, where conditions are also sharply deteriorating. It is a traditional centre of opposition to governments in Tripoli and was starved of state funding by Gadaffi's regime. Other cities in Eastern Libya such as Sousse and Al Bayda have also been hard hit by the floods.
The Tripoli government under Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dubaiba is putting out lower figures than its eastern counterparts for the casualties in the floods. But little reliable data is available. Agencies in the region say the priorities are to organise logistics and rescue as many as people as possible hit by the floods.
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el Sisi has offered to send over military forces with emergency supplies and equipment to help the rescue effort. El Sisi is an ally of Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the eastern-based Libyan National Army who is also backed by Russia's Wagner Group (AC Vol 63 No 14, All quiet on the Wagner front).
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