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Libyan flood toll tops 11,300 amid recovery and recrimination

Rescue teams assist in relief work in Libya's eastern city of Derna, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023. (Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

The death toll from devastating floods in eastern Libya surged past 11,300 people in the city of Derna alone, overshadowing hopes of finding the thousands of others missing after a rare hurricane-like storm slammed into the North African nation last week.

As rescuers including Libyan fighters and foreign teams combed through the rubble, concerns mounted about the potential health impact, including from cholera, from the contaminated waters. Authorities ordered an investigation into what caused the collapse of two dams that overwhelmed the city.

The United Nations estimated 10,100 people remained unaccounted for, a figure that when combined with fatalities represents about 24% of Derna’s previous population.

“I left Derna today with a heavy heart, after witnessing the devastation caused by floods on lives and properties,” Abdoulaye Bathily, the top UN envoy to Libya, said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “This crisis is beyond Libya’s capacity to manage, it goes beyond politics and borders.”

The catastrophe struck a country already roiled by years of war starting with the 2011 revolt that ousted dictator Moammar Qaddafi. Rival governments in the east and west say they’re working together to provide assistance, while more than a dozen nations are offering aid, including rescue teams and money. But the constant turmoil means the OPEC member nation, despite its oil wealth, has invested little in infrastructure, while ongoing divisions will complicate the rebuilding process.

Morocco disaster

Thousands of kilometers to the west, Moroccan authorities remain mired in recovery and reconstruction efforts after the strongest earthquake to hit the kingdom in 120 years left almost 3,000 people dead. Officials in the kingdom are trying to raise funds for rebuilding of homes and in some cases entire villages around the High Atlas mountains, near Marrakech.

The central bank has set up accounts for donations, and companies and foreign governments are stepping forward with aid. The International Monetary Fund has reached a staff-level agreement to lend Morocco $1.3 billion to boosts its resilience to disasters linked to the climate, Reuters reported, citing Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

The IMF and World Bank, which were due to hold their annual meetings in Marrakech next month, are waiting until at least Monday to decide whether to proceed, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. Moroccan authorities say they’re committed to holding the events.

Libya’s eastern authorities have committed at least 10 billion dinars ($2.1 billion) to help Derna and other flood-hit areas. But already calls for accountability are mounting, potentially undercutting signs of a fledging new unity between the two governments.

The Tripoli-based government in the west ordered the mayor of Derna removed, although it was unclear if he would step aside. His work is in the east, which comes under the sway of a separate parliament and Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army, the country’s most powerful military force.

The public prosecutor told reporters in Derna that investigations including local and national authorities are underway into the tragedy. Any abuse of funds earmarked for the upkeep of the two dams that collapsed will be punished, he said.

Libya’s decade of conflict poses another danger, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, warning of a risk from land mines and other ordnance that may have been shifted by floodwaters.


© 2023 Bloomberg News

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