GP Short Notes # 745, 14 September 2023
In the news
On 14 September, the Libyan Red Crescent reported that more than 11,300 people died and more than 10,000 went missing after Storm Daniel struck the city of Derna in eastern Libya on 10 September. Two dams, the Derna Dam and the Abu Mansur Dam, collapsed, unleashing torrents of water onto the city through a dry riverbed.
On 14 September, the international and domestic effort to aid Libya's numerous victims gained momentum despite political divisions. According to Al Jazeera, other countries including Algeria, Egypt, France, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union assisted in several capacities.
On 13 September, the UN described the storm as a “calamity of epic proportions” and expressed condolences to the victims.
On 12 September, the deputy mayor of Derna, Ahmed Madroud, stated that the dams in Derna in eastern Libya, which were battered by the storm, had not been maintained for more than 20 years, and were not designed to survive the disastrous floods. Additionally, Madroud stated that the damage in the city of Dern caused by Storm Daniel will be challenging to restore.
Issues at large
First, weather anomalies. Storm Daniel developed in Greece and as it approached Libya, evolved into a medicane - a Mediterranean hurricane - which is a combination of mid-latitude storms and tropical cyclones. The storm reached its highest intensity in Libya, with winds gusting up to 70 to 80 kilometres per hour. Torrential rains ranging from 150 to 240 millimetres caused flash floods in multiple cities. According to Libya’s National Meteorological Centre, Al-Bayda, the industrial city in eastern Libya recorded the highest rainfall rate of 414.1 mm (more than 16 inches) within 24 hours.
Second, Derna’s geographical challenges and frail dam infrastructure. The city of Derna is a low-lying area located at the end of a valley, which is bisected by the Wadi Derna, a seasonal river that runs from mountains towards the sea and is typically shielded from floods by dams. Approximately 90,000 people are residing in the city. The city of Derna consists of two dams. The Derna Dam, 75 metres tall, is located where two river valleys join 12 kilometres upstream from the city. Meanwhile, the Abu Mansur Dam, 45 metres tall, is located one kilometre upstream from the city. The dams can hold only 18 million and 1.5 million cubic metres of water respectively. These 50 year old dams failed, causing a deluge of water to flow through the centre of the city along the Wadi Derna River. The collapse caused the discharge of almost 30 million cubic metres of water. Having not been maintained for more than two decades, the dams collapsed, causing the surrounding mountains to become a collection system and direct the overflowing water directly into the city, leading to a devastating flood.
Third, the divided government. The conflict-torn eastern and western governments of Libya have been operating independently since the NATO-backed revolt deposed Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah is in charge of Libya's internationally acclaimed government in Tripoli. The eastern administration in Benghazi is led by the rival prime minister Osama Hamad and is supported by strong military leader Khalifa Hiftar. Socioeconomic issues including sustaining and constructing quality infrastructure have been pushed to the sidelines in between the power struggle. Roads, bridges, and other important infrastructure are in a terrible state, making emergency responses difficult. Additionally, the political divisions in Libya that lack a powerful central authority make rescue efforts more difficult to reach the affected area. According to the UN World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), due to inadequate early warning and crisis management systems in Libya, individuals were unable to be evacuated in the quickest possible time, which resulted in a tragic loss of life.
First, the effect of climate change. The temperature of the Mediterranean Sea has warmed by two to three degrees Celsius compared to previous years. Medicanes are renowned for being brief and feeble storms. However, warmer sea surface temperatures make storms more intense as they absorb more heat and water vapour while crossing warm waters. It results in powerful winds and heavier rain when they hit land. This is an adverse effect of global warming.
Second, a severe humanitarian crisis. The floods have caused a humanitarian catastrophe. Hundreds of people have lost their houses and desperately require shelter, water, and food. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), up to 35,000 individuals have been forced to leave the impacted eastern sites after their homes were either entirely drowned or collapsed.
Third, the inefficiency of the authorities in power. The devastating flood can be attributed to the negligence of the authorities as the warnings had been issued days before; however, the eastern authorities failed to respond in time. The impacted regions lack effective drainage systems. The two dams that collapsed serve as an example of Libya's crumbling infrastructure. Inadequate financial management and corruption are to blame for the infrastructure degradation.