Mediterranean Storm Daniel passed through eastern Libya over the weekend of Sept. 9, 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, 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 less than 100,00 people, was hit worst, with 25% of the city disappearing, according to the Minister of Civil Aviation. Images on social media reveal the scale of destruction in the city.
On Sept. 19, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, “Destroyed bridges and blocked roads have severely disrupted local food supply chains, hampering access to markets and causing food shortages. Lack of updated reliable data on the impact of the floods due to access challenges is delaying much-needed relief efforts.”
Dax Bennet Roque, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director for Libya, said on Sept. 12, “Communities across Libya have endured years of conflict, poverty and displacement. The latest disaster will exacerbate the situation for these people. Hospitals and shelters will be overstretched amidst the large wave of displacement.”
The disaster also has raised significant environmental concerns, with potential short and long-term impacts.
On Sept. 18, 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 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.”
Storm Daniel had devastating impacts across the Mediterranean the week of Sept. 4, including deadly flooding in Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria, leading to 20 deaths. The storm is known as 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.”
What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, September 25
What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, September 18
How donors can support relief and recovery of Libya’s flooding survivors
- As of Sept. 15, the Libyan Red Crescent said the death toll had reached 11,300 people in Derna alone. Officials expect this figure to continue to rise, possibly as high as 20,000. About 170 people were also killed in other parts of eastern Libya, including in Susa, Marj, Bayda and Um Razaz. More than 7,000 people were injured and at least 10,100 people are still reported to be missing. Because of the lack of telecommunications, some may be displaced and unable to reach family, but due to the large-scale destruction, it is hard to confirm these figures.
- 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.”
- The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported on Sept. 17 that displaced individuals have moved out of Derna to eastern locations including Albayda, Tobruk, Alfataeh, Toukra, Benghazi and Martuba. Some displaced people from eastern Libya have moved to multiple locations in western Libya. IOM estimates that the disaster has displaced 43,000 individuals in eastern Lybia. There are around 16,000 displaced individuals in Derna and surrounding areas alone.
- UNOCHA said on Sept. 15 that almost 900,000 people living in the five provinces affected by the floods have been impacted.
- According to UNOCHA on Sept. 19, there have been 150 reported cases of illness due to water contamination and Derna has recorded at least 55 children who have become sick as a result of contaminated water.
A Reuters report on Sept. 12 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 and raises the prospect of further flooding should additional rainfall occur.
Communications remain disrupted in Derna, impeding rescue and relief efforts. Across affected areas, there are reports of damage to homes, roads, bridges and hospitals. Access to some areas is limited due to road damage. While a full count is not complete, at least 2,217 buildings have been exposed to flooding.
The dam reservoirs in Derna have caused at least five floods since 1942, most recently in 2011. They were built in the 1970s. Derna’s deputy mayor told Al Jazeera, “The dams have not been maintained since 2002, and they are not big.”
The Derna Dam is about 246 feet high with a capacity of almost 5 billion gallons, while the Mansour Dam is smaller at 148 feet and just under 400 million gallons. But the problems with the dams were known.
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 conflict. 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.
Authorities said after the disaster that two other dams, the Jaza Dam, located between the city of Derna and nearby Benghazi, and the Qattara damm, near Benghazi, were in good condition. However, UNOCHA expressed concern about the dams with both managing significant pressure.
The water and sanitation infrastructure in affected areas also received significant damage, raising concerns of waterborne diseases spreading.
In their Sept. 23 flash update, UNOCHA said, “Rushing floodwater led to the demolition of water networks in multiple locations, including the destruction of pipes linking the water desalination plant at Derna; damage to the sewage pipes linking eastern and western Derna; and cutting off links between man-made river boreholes at Al Bayada supplying Almerj and other cities.”
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.”
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 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 immediate 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.”
There is the potential of a health crisis emerging as a significant number of bodies remain under debris. Damage to water and sanitation infrastructure raises concerns about the spread of waterborne diseases.
The Director General of the National Centre for Disease Control said 150 cases of illness due to water contamination had been reported. The World Health Organization conducted a rapid assessment of 78 health facilities in affected areas and found that: “More than half of the facilities were reported either partially or totally non-functional due to shortage of medical supplies, medicines, equipment or staff, damaged buildings and limited accessibility.”
Libya is entering its rainy season with an increase risk of disease outbreaks.
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, 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 are registered in Libya, 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.
Among the dead are at least 150 Sudanese and 23 Palestinians. Considering the pre-existing conditions these people faced, they will be particularly affected by the floods.
Damage assessments are ongoing, but the scale of the disaster means thousands of residential buildings have been damaged and become inhabitable. The disaster has displaced thousands.
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.
According to IOM on Sept. 17, three schools in the west and three others in the east are hosting displaced households but these families are likely to be relocated. Most of the displaced people in the east are staying with relatives.
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.
Local food supply chains have been disrupted by the storm and flooding. Families whose homes were flooded also lost their existing stores of food.
Prior to the storm and dam breaks, the World Food Programme was supporting “over 52,000 people – internally displaced people, returnees, and migrants in urban areas – through food assistance and cash grants.” The UN agency is supporting displaced families in Benghazi through their partner LibAid, as well as distributing food in Derna.
On Sept. 19, UNOCHA reported, “Due to the substantial impact on healthcare infrastructure, there is an urgent need for immediate emergency medical assistance and body bags for burials. In Derna, there are four functional primary healthcare centres and one working hospital, where medical supplies, equipment and medication, as well as medical personnel, are needed.”
In addition to Derna, the storm hit other areas in eastern Libya, including the town of Bayda, where the Medical Center of Bayda, the main hospital, was flooded and patients had to be evacuated.
According to officials, during the floods, more than 7,000 people were injured. Even minor injuries may require blood products and medical supplies or put a strain on facilities with limited numbers of staff. Damage to health infrastructure will only increase the need for medical supplies, medication, equipment and medical personnel. The high number of deaths means an exorbitant amount of body bags are required.
According to IOM on Sept. 25, access to a doctor and medical assistance was urgently needed in the Derna neighbourhoods of Abu Mansour, Alajabilh, Al-Dahr Al-Ahmar, Hai Syeda Khadija, Bab Tobrouk, Corsah, Shaebiat Ghazi, Alsahel eastern, Alsheha eastern, Shehah western and Hai Alsalam (Al Quruth).
The amount of loss will trigger a significant need for mental health and psychosocial support (also known as emotional spiritual care in the U.S.) due to emotional trauma and grief. According to UNOCHA on Sept. 19, “Recognizing the significant psychological impact of this disaster, particularly on children, and providing psychosocial support remains a top priority in the response efforts.”
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.
The protection and security of children are also major concerns. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) states that 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.”
Given the widespread destruction in eastern Libya, including the housing stock, disaster survivors will need access to safe shelter options.
According to the International Medical Corps, “Displaced individuals are in urgent need of NFIs [non-food items], such as tents, blankets, basic household items, hygiene kits, cooking utensils and flashlights.”
Water, Sanitation and Hygiene
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.
According to the Libyan National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), 238 cases of diarrhoea were reported between Sept. 14-18. Humanitarian partners, including UNICEF and International Medical Corps, have distributed water purification tablets and hygiene kits in collaboration with NCDC.
Our Global Recovery Fund provides support for flood-affected communities. Grants will focus on supporting marginalized communities in the recovery phase.
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.
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.
If you are a donor looking for recommendations on how to help with disaster recovery, please email Regine A. Webster.
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.
- 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.
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 appeal aims to meet the urgent needs of 250,000 of the 884,000 people in need for three months.
On Sept. 12, rescue and relief efforts were ongoing to assist those affected by the flooding, according to General Khalifa Haftar, head of the powerful Libyan military faction that controls the eastern part of the divided country. The Tripoli-based government of western Libya sent 14 tons of medical supplies and health workers to Benghazi via plane.
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.
Flooding is our nation’s most common natural disaster. Regardless of whether a lake, river or ocean is actually in view, everyone is at some risk of flooding. Flash floods, tropical storms, increased urbanization and the failing of infrastructure such as dams and levees all play a part — and cause millions (sometimes billions) of dollars in damage across the U.S. each year.
Complex Humanitarian Emergencies
CHEs involve an acute emergency layered over ongoing instability. Multiple scenarios can cause CHEs, like the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the man-made political crisis in Venezuela, or the public health crisis in Congo.
Disasters affect millions of people and cause billions of dollars in damage globally each year. To help understand and manage disasters, practitioners, academics and government agencies frame disasters in phases.