The Devastating Derna Floods Expose Libya’s Deep Political Divisions and Infrastructure Shortcomings

  On September 10, 2023, the Mediterranean hurricane “Daniel” hit many cities in northeastern Libya. Heavy rains of 150 to 240 mm caused severe flooding in many cities. The port city of Derna was particularly severely affected. The wind waves in the city center once reached 20 ft. Two old dams on the Wadi Derna river in the upper reaches broke. After the floods raged, almost no intact building could be found in the entire city, and some residents were swept into the Mediterranean Sea with their houses. .
  The United Nations stated on September 16 that the local death toll has exceeded 11,300, and another 10,100 people are still alive and dead. 40,000 people are homeless. There are still dead bodies soaked in the sea and no one has salvaged them. The death toll is bound to rise again. Libyan state-run media stated on the 17th that it is currently known that 891 buildings in Derna were completely destroyed, 211 buildings were partially destroyed, and 398 houses were soaked in mud after being flooded. The mayor’s office speculated that the death toll could eventually reach 20,000 – equivalent to a fifth of the city’s population.
  On the 17th, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs cited data from the World Health Organization and published a report, revising the death toll caused by the floods in Libya to 3,958, with more than 9,000 people missing.
  Derna is a city with a long history, having existed since the Hellenistic era (4th to 1st century BC). Amid the 2011 anti-government demonstrations in Libya, the city broke away from the control of Gaddafi’s government on February 18. In 2014, the city was occupied by Islamic State militants, during which it was subjected to multiple air strikes by the Egyptian military. In 2015, the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council, a militia considered close to Al Qaeda, defeated the Islamic State and regained control of the city.
  Since then, General Khalifa Haftar, considered the main authority in eastern Libya, has led a siege of Derna, the last territory in eastern Libya that has resisted his rule. Intensive bombing and brutal ground fighting have devastated the city. Hit hard again. In 2018, Haftar finally captured Derna. Haftar did not order a large-scale reconstruction of Derna out of distrust of its residents. It was not until 2022 that the eastern Libyan government formulated a reconstruction plan for Derna.
  Due to years of war, Derna City does not have unified central government management, its infrastructure is old, and its flood prevention and resilience capabilities are weak. In recent years, global warming has caused the waters of the Mediterranean to expand, and rising sea levels have eroded coastlines and caused flooding, especially in low-lying coastal areas like Derna. On September 10, 2023, Hurricane Daniel made landfall on the Mediterranean coast of eastern Libya. The hurricane had already caused serious damage in Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria along the Mediterranean coast, resulting in more than a dozen deaths. However, the Libyan authorities did not seriously formulate a monitoring plan. There was no plan to warn or evacuate residents of the dam situation.
  The Libyan National Meteorological Center said it had issued warnings through emails and media 72 hours before “Daniel” made landfall, urging local governments to take preventive measures. However, the National Meteorological Center of Libya is affiliated to the Government of National Accord in the west, and Derna is an area controlled by the eastern government. Local residents said that they did not receive warning before the flood hit, and the authorities did not have any evacuation plan. They only heard the loud noise of the dam breaking. Only then did everyone realize that the flood was coming.
  The World Meteorological Organization pointed out on September 14 that if the Libyan authorities had an early warning system for storms and floods, the vast majority of the victims could have been prevented from dying. In other words, this disaster appears to be a natural disaster, but is actually a man-made disaster. In the future, after floods wash away, landmines and unexploded bombs left over from years of war may surface, and secondary disasters may occur where people accidentally touch landmines.
  In the more than ten years since the fall of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has experienced one war after another and political crisis after another. To this day, it is still in a situation of confrontation between the eastern and western governments. Many people have long forgotten this long dispute, but the floods that occurred in Derna, causing tens of thousands of deaths and missing people, once again drew people’s attention back to this ill-fated place.
a divided country

  Libya covers an area of ​​1.76 million square kilometers and has a population of 6.7 million. It is located in northern Africa and the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. To the east is Cyrenaica, to the west is Tripolitania, and to the southwest is Fezzan. There is a desert barrier between the three, making communication inconvenient. They have been separated for a long time in history. Due to the separation of the natural geographical environment, the eastern and western regions of Libya are closely connected with the surrounding Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, but have little contact with each other.
  Historically, Libya belonged to the Roman Empire, the Arab Empire, and the Ottoman Turkish Empire. However, these rulers regarded the above three regions as independent parts of each other. Therefore, Libya in history has never been integrated into a unified political community. Therefore, like most countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Libya is also a typical tribal country, and people identify with the tribe more than the country. During the period when it was ruled by the Arab Empire, it experienced the process of Islamization. Today, most people in Libya are Sunni believers in Islam.
  At the beginning of the 20th century, the unified Italy also joined the ranks of colonial expansion and began to look for its own territory in Africa. It took a fancy to Libya under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, so it brazenly launched a war of aggression. In 1912, Italy defeated the Ottoman Empire in the Italian-Turkish War, making Libya an Italian colony. At the same time, the Senussi Order in eastern Cyrenaica launched a large-scale resistance movement in the name of “holy war”. The secular forces in the western region also actively resisted Italian aggression and even established the Republic of Tripoli in 1918. It was later banned and disbanded by Mussolini.
  After the end of World War II, in July 1949, the leader of the Senussi Order, Idris, declared the independence of Cyrenaica and served as the emir. In December 1951, Idris won the support of nationalist forces and tribes in three regions and finally established the United Kingdom of Libya. The three regions of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan were each a state with autonomy. right. The three colors on the current Libyan flag represent these three federal states and are symbols of federalism. In 1963, Libya’s new constitution abolished the federal system and divided the country into 10 provinces.
  In September 1969, Gaddafi, the leader of the “Free Officers Organization”, launched a coup, overthrew the Idris dynasty and established the Libyan Arab Republic. Gaddafi, who was born in the Bedouin tribe of the Fezzan region, has ruled Libya for 42 years, relying mainly on strongman politics and centralization, coupled with distribution policies supported by oil revenue, to barely suppress tribalism and localism.

  Libya first discovered oil in 1958 and officially started production in 1961. Its oil reserves are approximately 47.1 billion barrels, ranking first in Africa and ninth in the world, accounting for 2.9% of the world’s total. The crude oil is of good quality and has a high sulfur content. Low, high-quality oil, very popular in the international market. After 1973, with the sharp rise in international oil prices, the Gaddafi regime gained a lot of wealth.
  In order to avoid a recurrence of the tragedy of the fall of the Idris dynasty and gain public support for his radical anti-imperialist stance, Gaddafi significantly increased investment in housing, health care, education and other fields, increased workers’ salaries, and provided free services to the poor Public housing; land originally belonging to the Senussi Order and Italian farmers will also be distributed to farmers, and farm tools and livestock will be provided at extremely low prices; new rural housing can also be subsidized by government-controlled banks.
  However, starting in the 1980s, due to the decline in international oil prices, Libya’s oil revenue dropped sharply from US$21 billion in 1981 to US$5.4 billion in 1986. After the Lockerbie air crash in 1988, Libya was identified as the mastermind behind the crash and was subject to sanctions and embargoes by Western countries. In addition, oil field facilities are aging and oil production is ups and downs. There is no excess oil revenue to exchange for public support.
  In 2010, 95% of Libya’s export revenue, 75% of government revenue, and 25% of GDP came from oil. At the same time, Libya’s domestic unemployment rate was as high as 30%. Most important infrastructure construction projects and crude oil extraction projects have passed international bidding, and are led by Foreign companies and technicians completed the work, while a large number of Libya’s own youth labor force was unemployed.

  At the end of 2010, the “Arab Spring” broke out in the Middle East, and Libya was also affected. Anti-government demonstrations occurred, and the government responded with force to suppress them. On February 27, 2011, the opposition established the “National Transitional Council” in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city. On March 19, Britain and France launched air strikes in Libya in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. On September 16, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution to replace Libya’s seat in the United Nations by the National Transitional Council. On October 20, Gaddafi was killed on his way to escape.
  On September 11, 2012, to protest against a film that insulted Islam, the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was attacked by an Islamic armed group. U.S. Ambassador Stevens was killed. This was the most serious damage to a U.S. diplomatic institution in the past thirty years. .
Post-Gaddafi era

  The Libyan opposition is a hodgepodge including defectors from the original Gaddafi regime, pro-Western liberals, eastern tribal leaders who are dissatisfied with Gaddafi and the dictatorship of western tribes, and former supporters of the Idris royal family. The only thing they have in common is that It is dissatisfaction with Gaddafi. When the revolution has not yet succeeded, because the common enemy is still there, everyone has to seek common ground while reserving differences and work hard to cooperate. However, when the overall situation is determined, interests emerge, and the struggle for power is inevitable.
  To avoid infighting and division when sharing the fruits of the revolution, a leader with high moral integrity and the ability to reconcile various factions is necessary. However, during the 42 years of Gaddafi’s rule, Libya had no president, no prime minister, no parliament, no cabinet, only Colonel Gaddafi. The imagination and passion of a generation were limited by the ubiquitous “Green Book”. How could it be possible? Such a politician appeared in a short period of time? In addition, after Gaddafi’s army was disbanded, Libya failed to form a new national army. The existing militia groups strengthened their own forces and expanded their territory, causing the country to fall into a state of disorder.
  During Gaddafi’s rule, Cyrenaica in the east was suppressed by him for a long time, and the locals were always very dissatisfied. After the “Arab Spring” took place, this was the first place where trouble broke out and started anew.
  As a result, Libya was divided: the Government of National Accord and its armed forces recognized by the United Nations controlled most of western Libya, while the “National Army” led by Haftar controlled eastern and central Libya. The two sides have clashed several times since 2014, and Libya has descended into civil war. The civil war continued until 2020, and the two sides finally reached a ceasefire. However, until now, the general election originally scheduled for 2021 has not been held, and sporadic fighting between the western armed forces and the eastern armed forces continues. Just last month, at least 45 people were killed in fighting between the two sides in Tripoli.
  An important reason why the situation in Libya is unstable is the intervention of external forces. The Western Government of National Accord, recognized by the United Nations, has Turkey, Qatar and Italy as its backers, while Egypt, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and France support the government that controls the central and eastern parts of the country. Haftar’s regime. Italy wants to maintain the “face” of its former colonial master, Turkey wants to restore the glory of the “Ottoman Empire”… Each “player” has different reasons for entering the game. However, they seem to have the same goal behind them, which is the oil and natural gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. In the past ten years, a large amount of natural gas and oil have been discovered in this sea area. Libya and even the entire Eastern Mediterranean region have once again become a “powder keg” for various countries to engage in energy competition.
  The consequences of Libya’s disorder are not limited to the current out-of-control floods. After the fall of Gaddafi, the rebels looted the weapons arsenal of the government forces, and many weapons were transferred to other surrounding countries, especially extremist organizations. Chadian President Deby believes that the rise of extremist organizations such as the Nigerian terrorist organization “Boko Haram” , has a great relationship with the situation in Libya.

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