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2023 Libya Floods

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Mediterranean Storm Daniel passed through eastern Libya over the weekend of Sept. 9, 2023, bringing heavy rainfall and flooding that resulted in large-scale destruction.

Daniel dropped eight months of rain on Libya’s northeast region.

On Sept. 11, 2023, two dams collapsed, sending 1 billion cubic feet (30 million cubic meters) of water into already inundated areas. The eastern city of Derna, home to around 100,000 people, was hit worst, with one-quarter of the city “gone,” according to one local official. Images on social media reveal the scale of destruction in the city.

In January 2024, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) identified the following as key humanitarian needs: water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); health, protection, mental health and psychosocial support; and education.

According to the Libya Flood Response Flash Appeal Extension Addendum January-March 2024, “Several factors are influencing and exacerbating the severity of humanitarian needs, including pre-existing humanitarian conditions, deterioration of the socio-economic situation, logistical and access constraints to certain areas.”

The disaster also has raised significant environmental concerns, with potential short and long-term impacts.

On Sept. 18, 2023, hundreds of protestors gathered at Sahaba Mosque in Derna, angered over what they say is the eastern government’s neglect of collapsed dams and a lack of sufficient warning by officials about Storm Daniel. Libyan officials then began to restrict access for reporters and some aid groups, increasing confusion and raising concerns of an attempt by authorities to avoid scrutiny.

Amnesty International, a global human rights group, released a statement on Sept. 21, 2023 calling on the Libyan Arab Armed Forces, an armed group in de facto control of eastern Libya, to “immediately lift all undue restrictions imposed on media and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to all affected communities.”

According to Human Rights Watch, authorities in the western and eastern parts of the country have restricted the activities of nongovernmental agencies, and militias continued to commit abuses against Libyans and migrants with impunity. Additionally, “Libyan groups have called for an independent international investigation into the country’s disaster management and the state of degraded infrastructure.”

BBC Arabic uncovered evidence that mismanagement by the local authorities contributed to the deadly disaster and the slow response. The accusations include that residents of Derna were told to stay at home rather than being evacuated ahead of Daniel’s arrival, a failure to address the known dangers posed by the dams and hindering aid efforts in the days following the disaster.

Storm Daniel had devastating impacts across the Mediterranean the week of Sept. 4, 2023, including deadly flooding in Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, leading to 20 deaths. The storm was a “medicane”, which AccuWeather describes as a tropical stormlike cyclone that forms when a non-tropical storm feeds off the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Medicane is a combination of the two words “Mediterranean” and “hurricane.”

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Key facts
  • On Sept. 15, 2023, the Libyan Red Crescent said the death toll had reached 11,300 people in Derna alone; however, the organization told CNN they did not release that number. As of Oct. 25, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs UNOCHA reports that 4,352 people have died and more than 8,000 people were missing, possibly swept out to sea.
  • According to Floodlist, Libya’s National Center of Meteorology reported, “in a 24 hour period to Sept. 10, a staggering 414.1 mm [16.2 inches] of rain was recorded in Bayda, while 240 mm [9.5 inches] of rain fell in Marawah in the District of Jabal al Akhdar, and 170 mm [6.7] fell in Al Abraq in the Derna District.”
  • A report released in January 2024 by the World Bank, the UN and the European Union found that reconstruction and recovery needs following the flooding are estimated at $1.8 billion. The report also said the disaster affected around 22% of the country’s population.
  • Analysis in November 2023 from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) revealed that in the 18 municipalities assessed in northeastern Libya, approximately 67% of hospitals, 55% of public health centers, and 62% of private health centers and clinics were operational.
  • As of October 2023, IOM estimated 44,862 internally displaced people were displaced as a result of the flooding.
  • More than 18,500 houses are estimated to have been destroyed or damaged, which is equal to 7% of the country’s housing stock.
  • Humanitarian partners reached 247,000 people with assistance from Sept. 11, 2023 to Jan. 16, 2024.
Critical infrastructure

The 2023 Libya Storm and Flooding Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA), a joint report produced by the World Bank, the UN and the European Union, outlined damages to infrastructure sectors including energy and transport, and damages to assets in the agriculture, health and education sectors.

According to the RDNA, damage to Libya’s electricity infrastructure, including power transmission facilities, is estimated at $34 million in terms of capital cost of the assets. A total of 418 miles (673 kilometers) of roads, nearly 5% of the total road network in the affected regions, were entirely or partially damaged. Across 20 municipalities, 37 education facilities were fully destroyed, and 155 facilities were partially damaged.

A Reuters report on Sept. 12, 2023, said, “Derna is bisected by a seasonal river that flows from highlands to the south, and normally protected from flooding by dams.” The collapse of two dams is a major infrastructure failure.

As reported in CNN, previous research had “warned that the dams in Derna had a ‘high potential for flood risk’ and that periodic maintenance is needed to avoid ‘catastrophic’ flooding.” This maintenance was not carried out due to the political situation. The dams will need to be rebuilt and maintained. Libya’s chief prosecutor ordered the detention of eight current and former officials pending an investigation into the recent flood disaster.

Regarding water and sanitation access, 69% of Libyan households interviewed in Derna in 2022 were found to have unmet needs related to WASH according to REACH. The infrastructure prior to the storm and subsequent flooding was insufficient and high numbers of individuals in Derna, considered the most affected by the disaster, did not have access to water and sanitation services.

Existing crisis worsened

Libya’s disaster vulnerability is increased by its political conflict, which has seen a power struggle between two rival administrations.

BBC explains, “Since 2014, Libya has been divided into competing political and military factions based in different parts of the country.” However, Libya’s woes precede 2014. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “Libya has struggled to rebuild state institutions since the ouster and subsequent death of former leader Muammar al-Qaddafi in October 2011.”

In December 2023, Abdoulaye Bathily, UN Special Representative for Libya, told the Security Council that for the first time since elections were abandoned in December 2021, “Libya has a constitutional and legal framework for elections in place.” However, the political landscape remains challenging and delicate with key figures having attached conditions to taking part in crucial talks.

Weak institutions make it difficult for governments to adequately invest in social services and help their population mitigate disaster risk. According to Leslie Mabon, lecturer in Environmental Systems at The Open University, the country’s complex politics “pose challenges for developing risk communication and hazard assessment strategies, coordinating rescue operations, and also potentially for maintenance of critical infrastructure such as dams.”

Deadly fighting between the two largest armed groups in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, in late August 2023 served as a reminder of how severe the security situation is. In 2023, humanitarians already faced barriers to delivering aid in Libya, including administrative impediments and access constraints.

The disaster will likely exacerbate these issues and may result in difficulties in providing aid. As in all disasters, survivors and local volunteers are the first to respond and support their community.

According to NPR, “The disaster brought a rare moment of unity, as government agencies across the country rushed to help the affected areas. While the Tobruk-based government of east Libya is leading relief efforts, the Tripoli-based western government allocated the equivalent of $412 million for reconstruction in Derna and other eastern towns, and an armed group in Tripoli sent a convoy with humanitarian aid.”

Health

According to the RDNA, “The flood-damaged facilities are mostly primary care facilities, hospitals, and pharmacies. One hospital was destroyed in Benghazi. The highest density of damaged and destroyed facilities is in Soussa, with 100 percent of facilities damaged.”

Following the disaster, there were concerns about the potential for the spread of waterborne diseases. As of mid-January 2024, the National Centre for Disease Control said diarrhea cases had declined significantly due to public awareness campaigns discouraging the use of contaminated groundwater for drinking and washing purposes. However, respiratory infections remained relatively high, dominated by Influenza A. There were no reports of vector-borne diseases such as dengue.

Migrants and refugees

Most migrants and refugees go through Libya on their journey towards Europe. For years, migrants and refugees have endured abuses that are well documented. On Sept. 19, 2023, IOM reported that 406 migrants had died.

In 2022, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office released a report that found many migrants in Libya are compelled to accept assisted returns to their countries of origin “in conditions that do not meet international human rights laws and standards.”

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), around 50,000 refugees and asylum-seekers were registered in Libya as of Sept. 26,  including more than 1,000 who live in eastern Libya. However, UNHCR said on Sept. 26 it is aware of larger numbers of forcibly displaced people from Sudan and Syria who were not registered with UNHCR living in the affected areas. IOM said on Oct. 12 that there are 250 Egyptian migrants who were displaced from the floods in Derna and who relocated to Tobruk.

Shelter and displacement

The RDNA found that in terms of total disaster effects (damages + losses), the housing sector suffered the most, accounting for $428 million or 26% of the total effects. Benghazi and Derna represent nearly 65% of the total housing damage cost, demonstrating how heavily impacted those two cities were in particular.

Access to housing has long been a concern in the flood-affected areas. The disaster will exacerbate the situation with fewer homes available and growing demand, especially for low-income families, migrants and IDPs.

As of October 2023, IOM estimated 44,862 IDPs were displaced as a result of the flooding. The IDPs are mostly located across Derna, Al Jabal Al Akhdar and Benghazi regions. The municipalities (baladiyas) hosting the highest numbers of IDPs are Derna (23,500), Benghazi (3,985) and Albayda (3,555).

Buildings in many of the disaster-affected areas were not built to withstand floods, landslides or damage from natural hazards. The 2022 REACH Multi-Sector Needs Assessment (MSNA) shows that before the current floods, 11% of the respondents reported that rain leaked into their shelters, causing flooding and damage to walls.

Source: IOM
Cash assistance

The Flash Appeal for the Libya flood response was extended until the end of March 2024, “shifting the focus of response modalities to cash-based interventions and light rehabilitation.” The authorities have already begun providing payments between $4,000-$21,000.

As with most disasters and emergencies, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs and quickly re-establishing access to basic needs.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy recommends cash as a donation method and a recovery strategy. Direct cash assistance can allow families to purchase items and services that address their multiple needs. It gives each family flexibility and choice, ensuring that support is relevant and timely. Cash-based approaches to disaster recovery also give people the freedom to choose how they rebuild their lives and provide a pathway to economic empowerment.

Food assistance

Local food supply chains have been disrupted by the storm and flooding. Families whose homes were flooded also lost their existing stores of food. According to the multi-thematic rapid needs assessment, food was one of the top five highest-priority needs reported.

The assessment in Derna said in the muhallas of Al-Jubailah, Corsah, Al-Maghar, Alsahil and El Fataieh, key informants reported that over 75% of the population did not have access to sufficient food for the next two to four weeks following data collection (between Sept. 19-26). Food was among the top three most pressing needs in the five regions hosting the highest number of IDPs as of November 2023.

According to the UNOCHA Flood Response Humanitarian Update from Dec. 18, a recent market assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP) found that the flood has impacted vendors’ ability to operate, particularly in Derna, Albayda, Shahat and Labriq. The assessment also found that financial constraints were the most challenging barriers impacting consumer’s access to markets.

WFP’s Libya Market Monitoring Report from November 2023 found that in the flood-affected areas in the east, “the cost of the food basket has increased since the floods, with the cost of the food basket increasing by 9 percent in Derna and 6 percent in Albayda.”

Health

The disaster has strained the country’s health system. These conditions heighten the risk of disease outbreaks, such as water-borne diseases, including acute watery diarrhea and cholera, and vector-borne diseases, including typhoid, dengue, malaria and yellow fever.

According to UNOCHA in their Jan. 23, 2024 flood humanitarian update, health needs include sufficient health human resources, restoration of primary healthcare facilities, filling gaps in medicine and medical supplies, reinforcing disease surveillance, and supporting emergency care and referral services.

The RDNA said the near-term priority “is to restore the continuity of essential health services in functional and minimally damaged facilities while continuing to provide services through mobile units in areas without health facilities.”

In the medium to long-term, “the priority should be to rebuild facilities with energy-efficient, climate-resilient designs to strengthen medical supply chains and procurement systems, build loca health human resource capacity, strengthen PHC [primary health care] service delivery and pandemic preparedness, and systematically engage the private health sector to help provide affordable services.”

The amount of loss will trigger a significant need for mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) due to emotional trauma and grief. Humanitarian partners conducted an assessment of child protection risks in the flood-affected areas, the most frequently reported risk was psychological distress.

Residents of Derna, where approximately 30% of the city was destroyed by floods, are dealing with severe psychosocial impacts. Tamer Ramadan, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Head of Delegation in Libya, said on Oct. 11, 2023, “The emotional and physical toll of this disaster has been immense. While we have been diligent in our immediate response, the recovery process is far from over. Attention must not wane.”

Protection

After a disaster, protecting vulnerable individuals and ensuring access to their basic rights are immediate priorities. Gender-based violence, including sexual assault and trafficking of vulnerable individuals, is often a priority concern. In the context of this disaster, migrants and refugees, IDPs, women and children are particularly at risk.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said 300,000 children across eastern Libya have been exposed to Storm Daniel. In addition to the risks of disease, malnutrition and learning disruptions, UNICEF says that, “children who lose their parents or become separated from their families are more exposed to protection risks, including violence and exploitation.”

Shelter

Given the widespread destruction in eastern Libya, including the housing stock, disaster survivors will need access to safe shelter options. People displaced in shelters and staying with host families, particularly female-headed households, need immediate shelter needs met while longer-term solutions are needed for safe and affordable housing.

Local authorities began registering people who lost their houses, businesses or assets for compensation after the disaster. The multi-thematic rapid needs assessment in Derna revealed the most important shelter need was cash for rent, while the most important non-food items needed were clothing, bedding, blankets, cooking fuel and cooking utensils.

According to the UNOCHA Flood Response Humanitarian Update from Dec. 18, the most urgent need from the affected population is shelter assistance, specifically cash for rent, which was insufficient as winter approached.

The RDNA argues that recovery will only be achieved “through a multi-faceted strategy of access to land, materials, and financing, which enables private sector participation to deliver the mass housing required for rapid recovery. This strategy must include rental housing and protect property rights.”

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

The flooding, plus damage to sanitation facilities and sewage systems, increase the risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases. Access to hygiene supplies, clean water and sanitation facilities will be critical to reduce the spread of waterborne diseases.

As of Nov. 14, 2023, humanitarian partners’ WASH support was mainly the distribution of hygiene kits and emergency water supply, however rehabilitation of water infrastructure was progressing. In their Libya flooding situation report released on Dec. 19, the International Medical Corps (IMC) said, “The damage to boreholes, water pipes, and the water and sewerage system is significant, requiring extensive long-term reconstruction.”

An inter-agency mission visited the most affected municipalities of Derna, Albayda, Sousa and Shahat between Dec. 11-13. According to the UNOCHA Flood Response Humanitarian Update from Dec. 18, the mission “identified rehabilitation of WASH infrastructure as the main residual humanitarian need.” In Derna, access to drinking water was a top priority.

Our Global Recovery Fund provides support for flood-affected communities. Grants will focus on supporting marginalized communities in the recovery phase.

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Philanthropic contributions

If you have questions about donating to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, need help with your disaster-giving strategy or want to share how you’re responding to this disaster, please contact development.

Photo from Derna in eastern Libya after storm Daniel brought heavy rain that caused two dams to collapse, causing widespread flooding. Photo source: National Center of Meteorology on X.

Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO or a donor, please send updates on how you are working on recovery from this disaster to Tanya Gulliver-Garcia.

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Philanthropic and government support

During a donor briefing on Sept. 14, the UN and humanitarian partners launched a Flash Appeal for $71.4 million. The Flash Appeal for the Libya flood response was extended through March 2024 to address remaining humanitarian needs and facilitate the transition of assistance and support through the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework 2023-25 for Libya.

Turkish aircraft delivering humanitarian aid arrived in Libya, according to Turkey’s Emergency Management Authority on Sept. 12. Italy sent a civil defense team to assist with rescue operations, according to the country’s Civil Protection Department.

On Sept. 18, U.S. President Biden announced that the U.S., through the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of State, would provide $11 million in additional humanitarian assistance to the people of Libya affected by devastating flooding.

Canada’s International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen announced on Sept. 15 that the federal government would provide $5 million in humanitarian aid to Libya.

More ways to help

CDP has also created a list of suggestions for foundations to consider related to disaster giving. These include:

  • Take the long view: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that it will take some time for the full range of needs to emerge. Be patient in planning for disaster funding. Recovery will take a long time and while recovery efforts can begin immediately, funding will be needed throughout.
  • Prioritize investments in local organizations: Local humanitarian leaders and organizations play a vital role in providing immediate relief and setting the course for long-term equitable recovery in communities after a disaster or throughout a complex humanitarian crisis. However, these leaders and organizations are mostly under-resourced and underfunded. Grant to locally-led entities as much as possible.
  • All funders are disaster philanthropists: Even if your organization does not work in a particular geographic area or fund immediate relief efforts, you can look for ways to tie disaster funding into your existing mission. If you focus on education, health, children or vulnerable populations, disasters present prime opportunities for funding these target populations or thematic areas.
  • Ask the experts: If you are considering supporting an organization that is positioned to work in an affected area, do some research. CDP and InterAction can provide resources and guidance about organizations working in affected communities.

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