Thursday, 28 September, 2023

UN warns of disease threat in Libya

The UN warned Monday that disease outbreaks could bring "a second devastating crisis" to Libya a week after a huge flash flood shattered the coastal city of Derna, sweeping thousands to their deaths.

Local officials, aid agencies and the World Health Organisation "are concerned about the risk of disease outbreak, particularly from contaminated water and the lack of sanitation", the United Nations said.

The flash flood that has killed nearly 3,300 people and left thousands more missing came as the war-scarred North African country was lashed by the hurricane-strength Storm Daniel on September 10.

Tens of thousands of traumatised residents are homeless and badly in need of clean water, food and basic supplies.

Rescue teams from several European and Arab countries kept up the grim search for bodies in the mud-caked wasteland of smashed buildings, crushed cars and uprooted trees.

One bereaved resident, Abdul Wahab al-Masouri, lamented what has become of his city.

"We grew up here, were raised here... but we've come to hate this place, we've come to hate what it has become," he said.

"The buildings, the neighbourhood, the villagers, the sheikhs... the wadi has returned to the state it was 1,000 years ago. People live in caves, the city looks dead, barren, there is no life left."

Amid the chaos, the true death toll remained unknown, with untold numbers swept into the sea.

Soldier Hamza al-Khafifi, 45, described to AFP finding the unclothed bodies of "old, young, women, men and children" washing up on the shore a week after the disaster.

"Bodies were stuck between rocks."

The health minister of the eastern administration, Othman Abdeljalil, has said 3,283 people were now confirmed dead in Derna.

Libyan officials and humanitarian organisations have warned, however, that the final toll could be much higher with thousands still missing.

Five members of a Greek rescue team were killed in a road accident while travelling from Benghazi to Derna on Sunday, Greek officials said.

Abdeljalil said their vehicle collided with a car carrying a Libyan family, three of whose members died while two others were seriously injured.

Emergency response teams and aid have been deployed from France, Greece, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Libya's neighbour Egypt dispatched the "Gamal Abdel Nasser" Mistral helicopter carrier to the eastern Tobruk military base to serve as a field hospital with over 100 beds, Egyptian media reported.

France also announced it had set up a field hospital in Derna that began operating Sunday.

On Monday the UN mission in Libya said nine United Nations agencies were involved in efforts to deliver aid and support to survivors.

The United Nations has launched an aid appeal for more than $71 million.

The European Union on Monday said it was releasing 5.2 million euros (around $5.5 million) in humanitarian funding for Libya, bringing the total of EU aid so far to more than 5.7 million euros.

In the face of the tragedy, rival Libyan administrations appear to have set aside their differences after calls from aid groups and several countries to close ranks and collaborate in the aid effort.

Libya has been split between two rival governments -- a UN-backed administration in the capital Tripoli and another in the disaster-hit east -- since the overthrow and killing of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.

The International Organization for Migration's Libya chief Tauhid Pasha posted on X, formerly Twitter, that the aim now was to channel all authorities "to work together, in coordination".

On Monday the Tripoli-based government announced the launch of work to build a temporary bridge that would span the wadi that cuts through Derna.

The massive flooding caused two upstream river dams in Derna to rupture, sending a late-night tidal wave crashing through the centre of the city of 100,000 and sweeping entire residential blocks into the Mediterranean.

The rushing waters submerged a six-square-kilometre (2.3-square-mile) densely populated area in Derna, damaging 1,500 buildings of which 891 were totally razed, according to a preliminary report released by the Tripoli government based on satellite images.

UN experts have blamed the high death toll on climatic factors as the Mediterranean region has sweltered under an unusually hot summer, and on the legacy of Libya's war that has depleted its infrastructure, early warning systems and emergency response.