UN humanitarians are working flat out on the ground in Libya, providing desperately needed aid to thousands of survivors of the flood disaster that has left thousands dead and thousands more unaccounted for.
Disaster struck on Sunday when torrential rains from Storm Daniel led two dams close to the now devastated port city of Derna to burst, pushing entire neighbourhoods into the sea.
“The situation is quite terrible as you can imagine”, UN Children’s Fund UNICEF‘s Libya Representative, Michele Servadei, told UN News.
‘Drop in the ocean’
“As UNICEF, we have sent medical kits and medical supplies for 10,000 people. This was the first couple of days. We sent 1,100 hygiene kits, we sent clothing kits, but that is still a drop in the ocean.”
He said psychosocial support was urgently needed besides lifesaving supplies, “not only for the displaced but also for the ones that are in shelters”, or who remain stranded having lived through “that terrible night.”
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has already provided food assistance to more than 5,000 families displaced by the catastrophic floods.
“These devastating floods have struck in a country where a profound political crisis has already left so many in a desperate situation,” WFP Executive Director, Cindy McCain said.
Libya is particularly vulnerable to the impact of natural disasters as it has no unified government. The country has been split since 2014 between an interim, internationally recognized Government operating from the capital, Tripoli, and another in the east, with many armed groups also operating on its territory.
Appeal for $71 million
UN aid coordination office OCHA, on Thursday issued an urgent appeal to donors for $71.4 million to respond to the needs of around 250,000 people impacted by the floods in Libya over the next three months, saying death tolls could rise without more help.
OCHA estimates that more than 880,000 people, in five provinces, live in areas directly affected by the storm and flash floods.
“All hands are on deck to get as much help and support to people as we can. The UN is deploying a robust team to support and resource the international response, in coordination with first responders and Libya’s authorities”, the head of OCHA, and UN relief chief Martin Griffiths said.
Meanwhile, it is a race against time for emergency teams searching through piles of debris for survivors.
“The scale of the flood disaster is shocking, with entire neighborhoods having been wiped off the map and whole families, taken by surprise, swept away in the deluge of water,” Mr. Griffiths said.
“Alongside the tragic loss of life, thousands of families in Derna are now without food or shelter”, Ms. McCain noted.
WFP said its planned emergency operation will aim to provide monthly food assistance to 100,000 people in flood-affected areas for the next three months.
What role did climate change play?
The deadly storm comes in an unprecedented year of climate disasters and record-breaking weather events, from devastating wildfires to excessive heatwaves.
Professor Petteri Taalas, the head of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Wednesday said the tragedy in Libya highlights the devastating and cascading consequences of extreme weather on fragile States.
He stressed it shows the need for multi-hazard early warning systems which embrace all levels of government and society, in line with the UN’s drive to make them universal by 2027.