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Climate change isn’t solely to blame for Libya’s flood

On Sept. 11 a flood hit the northeastern part of Libya resulting in at least 11,000 casualties and roughly 10,000 people still missing. At first glance one might be tempted to blame the tragedy on human-induced climate change, but after a thorough look there is also a second hand responsible for these death tolls.  

If the amount of heavy rain that Libya experienced had happened in a developed country, I would argue it would have passed as a stormy day with schools off and nothing more. However, when intense natural occurrences like these heavy rains meet poor management of resources due to corruption, it results in an unnecessary tragedy, causing more than 11,000 deaths.   

The flood was triggered by the collapse of the two dams in Derna, Libya. While Aguila Saleh, the speaker of Libya’s Parliament called the disaster a “fate”, many Libyan protests believe it was due to a lack of maintenance of the dams and demand accountability from their leaders, and one might argue rightfully so.  

The politics of Libya is controlled by an internationally recognized authority in the west and another authority responsible for the eastern part of the country. The political division between the leaders, who can’t seem to properly appoint one authority responsible for managing the resources, caused the needs for maintenance of the dams to fall through the cracks.  

Through numerous publications it had become clear that the dams were insufficient for the storms hitting the country. Abdelwanese Ashoor, a hydraulic engineer at Omar Al- Mukhtar University of Libya predicted that Derna was “extremely vulnerable to flood risk.”   

According to the New York Times, Ashoor argued in his paper that the dams used inadequate design and had been built by engineers who underestimated the amount of expected rain. When the dams were built in the 1970’s, the climate of Libya looked very different. According to the BBC, “ Up to 50% more rain had fallen as a result of human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, climate scientists at the World Weather Attribution group found,” 

In addition to the poor survey of the conditions of the dams, “A 2021 report by Libyan state auditors showed that more than $2.3 million allocated for maintaining the two dams was never used,” (New York Times). Ashoor argued in this paper that the authorities were aware of the needs of the dams but ignored the signs. It seems that not only were the authorities aware of this ticking time bomb, but also foreign companies, as in 2010, a Turkish company had embarked on repairing the dams. But later when the Arab Spring began uprising, the work stopped.  

With hundreds of Libyans protesting their authorities to take responsibility for the mismanagement of the infrastructure, Libyan leaders can not bring themselves to admit they were somewhat at fault. Aguila Saleh, rejected accusations that the extent of the calamity was due to government mismanagement and neglect. Mr. Al-Soor, the attorney general launched an investigation to track down where and who caused this problem but other than a general vow, he also, has yet to accept any sort of accountability. “One of the problems with holding people accountable is that this problem dates back very far,” said Matthew Brubacher, a former economic adviser to the U.N. Support Mission in Libya. 

Many fear what is to come now after the disaster.  Haidar el- Saeih, head of Libya’s center for combating disease has voiced concerns about water borne diseases and said that at least 150 people have suffered from diarrhea after drinking contaminated water in Derna. Angry protestants, lack of nourishing food and water, and a politically divided country in ways is reminiscent of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising in Libya. An uprising that eventually brought down the country’s dictator Muammar el- Qaddafi.  

Elham Saudi, director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya said, “We feel this is a moment of change,” she said. “Hopefully, this can be the legacy of this horrible disaster.” 

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