Deadly floods in Libya. Drone view of a small village submerged in floodwaters. Credit: quantic69

The Libya floods: What is the humanitarian situation?

On Sunday 10th September, Storm Daniel struck northeastern Libya, causing extensive damage along the coast, particularly in Derna and Al Bayda cities.

In Derna, excessive rainfall provoked the collapse of two dams which immediately caused flash flooding that washed away entire neighbourhoods and other infrastructure. At the time of writing the death toll stands at 11,300 with thousands of people still unaccounted for.

The floods have provoked a major humanitarian crisis in Derna as scores of people are left homeless and without access to clean water and basic food supplies. The UN has also warned that waterborne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea could cause “a second devastating crisis” due to contaminated water and the lack of sanitation in the city.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has issued a critical warning about a rapidly escalating public health crisis in flood-affected parts of Libya, particularly in Derna, reporting that children have become sick because of contaminated water.   

The humanitarian response

Last week, the UK government announced an initial aid package of around £1m to meet the immediate needs of those affected in Derna with the Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly saying:  

The UK is committed to supporting Libya following these devastating floods. The funding announced today will provide life-saving assistance to those most affected by the floods, including women and children and those who have been displaced from their homes. We will continue to coordinate closely with the UN and the Libyan authorities on what further support may be required.

The UN has also announced $10 million in response to the flooding from its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and launched an appeal for more than $71 million for the emergency response in Derna and other parts of eastern Libya.

UK INGOs including Islamic Relief, UNICEF UK, Action Against Hunger, the British Red Cross, Christian Aid, CARE International UK and more have all set up appeals for funding as they respond to the urgent humanitarian crisis.  

Islamic Relief is working with local partners on the ground and delivering urgently needed relief like mattresses, blankets and food packs. It has committed an initial £100,000 to provide emergency aid in Libya.

Action Against Hunger has teams in Libya ready to help people affected by the violent flooding.

Christian Aid is working with Dan Church Aid (DCA), their Act Alliance partner who have had an established presence in Libya since 2011.  

Difficulty reaching those affected

While the international humanitarian response has been rapid, the scale of the crisis is vast.

Bond’s Humanitarian Adviser, Mustafa Al-Soufi has heard that international rescue teams, who arrived in the city with a mission to save lives, now seem to be giving up mid-task:

Sometime in the next few hours, sources say the teams will withdraw and leave Derna behind—a city still buried in rubble, still filled with trapped and injured people desperate for help. The reasons aren’t totally clear. Maybe the scale of the crisis became too overwhelming, though that seems unthinkable for these experienced rescuers. Or maybe political pressures forced their hand. Either way, the result is tragic.

The situation in Libya is unprecedented. Never have rescue teams fled the scene of a disaster while their job was still unfinished.

Experts have blamed the high death toll on climatic factors, such as the Mediterranean summer heatwave, the structural integrity of the Derna dams and on the legacy of Libya’s war.

Please refer to Relief Web for the latest humanitarian updates as the situation unfolds.