Libyan Protesters Demand Accountability After Floods Killed Thousands

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The cries of protesters were portion of a rising chorus of calls for answers from leaders crossed a divided Libya, specifically for an planetary investigation.

A ample  assemblage  of radical   extracurricular  a mosque, seen from above.
A objection connected Monday extracurricular Al-Sahaba mosque, which survived the floods successful Derna, Libya. Protesters privation an planetary probe into what led 2 dams to burst.Credit...Hussam Ahmed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Sept. 18, 2023, 4:26 p.m. ET

Hundreds of Libyans protested connected Monday from the devastated eastbound metropolis of Derna, demanding the removal of those liable a week aft torrential rains burst 2 dams and unleashed a catastrophe that killed thousands.

Some protesters stood connected the muddy, rocky world that the floods carried done the metropolis halfway connected Sept. 11, washing full neighborhoods and their inhabitants into the Mediterranean Sea. Others perched connected the extortion of a mosque that inactive stood, and a fig appeared to beryllium portion of alleviation and rescue efforts, dressed successful achromatic biohazard suits and reflective vests.

“Aguila, out, out,” they yelled, referring to Aguila Saleh, the talker of Libya’s Parliament, who has deflected blasted for the catastrophe and called it “fate.” In a televised code connected Thursday night, helium appeared to cull accusations that the standard of the calamity was rooted successful authorities mismanagement and neglect, which angered galore Libyans.

The cries of the protesters were portion of a rising chorus of calls to clasp leaders crossed the divided North African state accountable. Specifically, they privation an planetary probe into the circumstances that led to the bursting of the 2 dams connected the borderline of Derna.

Many Libyans accidental they don’t spot the country’s ain authorities to pinpoint who was responsible. Those authorities are divided betwixt an internationally recognized authorities successful the west, based successful Tripoli, the capital, and a portion administered separately successful the east, wherever Derna is. Mr. Saleh and the Parliament are portion of the eastbound Libya administration.

There are calls for wide protests successful the state this Friday to request accountability.


At an antigovernment protestation extracurricular the mosque, Libyans who survived the flooding comforted a person who mislaid household members.Credit...Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

For much than a decade, successive governments successful Libya, a federation affluent successful oil, person jockeyed for powerfulness astatine the disbursal of addressing the public’s needs, according to critics wrong Libya and analysts who travel the state closely. That includes neglecting the attraction of dilapidated infrastructure similar the aging dams that burst.

“The absorption needs to beryllium connected precisely what happened, and past we determine who needs to beryllium held responsible,” said Elham Saudi, manager of Lawyers for Justice successful Libya. “But that cannot beryllium done by Libyan authorities due to the fact that they are unwilling oregon incapable to bash it.”

Her enactment is gathering documents to physique a lawsuit for wherefore Libya needs an planetary inquiry, she said.

The authoritative effect to the catastrophe has been chaotic, and the afloat decease toll is inactive being assessed. Some estimates person enactment it implicit 11,000.

The choler implicit those deaths is unifying Libyans successful ways reminiscent of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising successful Libya, Ms. Saudi said, a revolt that yet brought down the country’s longtime dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

“We consciousness this is simply a infinitesimal of change,” she said. “Hopefully, this tin beryllium the bequest of this horrible disaster.”


Ruined buildings successful Derna connected Monday. It was known for years that the dams protecting the metropolis needed maintenance.Credit...Ayman Al-Sahili/Reuters

But Mr. el-Qaddafi’s ouster by rebels, aided by a NATO-led subject intervention, did not pb to the alteration galore Libyans had hoped for successful 2011, alternatively ushering successful much than a decennary of conflict, dysfunction and suffering. Successive governments took clasp arsenic equipped militias gained power, and a civilian warfare with dense engagement from overseas powers, specified arsenic Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, divided the state successful two.

It was known for years that the dams protecting Derna, connected Libya’s northeastern Mediterranean coast, needed attraction oregon were insufficient for the storms hitting the country. But Libyan authorities successful some the eastbound and westbound appeared to person ignored warnings astir the danger.

In a insubstantial published past year, Abdelwanees Ashoor, a hydraulic technologist astatine Omar Al-Mukhtar University successful Libya, warned that Derna was “extremely susceptible to flood risk,” arsenic the benignant of storms successful the country successful caller decades could bring down the dams. The dams utilized an inadequate plan and had been built by engineers who underestimated the magnitude of rainfall expected, Mr. Ashoor argued successful his paper.

Government officials knew the dams needed repairs but ignored the warnings, including Mr. Ashoor’s, helium said.

In 2010, a Turkish institution began repair enactment connected the dams. But months later, erstwhile the Arab Spring uprising began, the enactment stopped, according to Libya’s lawyer general, Sadiq al-Soor.

A 2021 study by Libyan authorities auditors showed that much than $2.3 cardinal allocated for maintaining the 2 dams was ne'er used.


A rescue squad with a assemblage successful Derna connected Monday. The Libyan meteorological work issued aboriginal warnings astir rainfall and floods but did not code the hazard of “the aging dams,” a U.N. bureau said.Credit...Yousef Murad/Associated Press

Residents and observers accidental the catastrophic decease toll could person been prevented had the authorities fixed the due warnings to residents earlier the storm.

While the Libyan meteorological work did contented aboriginal warnings astir dense rainfall and floods, it did not code the hazard posed by “the aging dams,” the World Meteorological Organization, a U.N. agency, said past week. The abilities of the Libyan upwind work were limited, the bureau said, by “major gaps successful its observing systems” arsenic good arsenic its accusation technology.

The lone warnings that did travel were for Derna residents surviving adjacent the oversea to evacuate 24 hours earlier the floods, said Atiya Al-Hasadi, a Derna nonmigratory and meteorologist. But for the remainder of the city, overmuch of which has since washed away, authorities enacted a curfew and told residents to enactment successful their homes, aggregate residents said.

“We could person avoided astir of the quality casualties,” Petteri Taalas, caput wide of the World Meteorological Organization, told reporters successful Geneva.

Like others, Mr. Al-Hasadi called for the planetary assemblage to unfastened an investigation. He said helium and respective members of his household had to ascent onto a h2o vessel connected the extortion of their three-story gathering to enactment retired of the floodwaters for hours. Two of his aunts died successful the floods.

Tarek Megerisi, a elder argumentation chap astatine the European Council of Foreign Relations, compared Libyans’ absorption to the flooding to that of the radical of Lebanon aft the port detonation successful Beirut successful 2020, which prompted choler against the governmental powers there.


In Derna connected Monday. The lawyer wide started an investigation, but the nationalist is profoundly skeptical fixed Libya’s past of corruption and impunity.Credit...Mahmud Turkia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For galore Libyans, their “anger initially expressed itself successful ‘Everyone should resign,’ that this is specified a horrendous transgression against them,” helium said.

“That immense fund was allocated for maintenance,” said Souad al-Qusaybi, a parent successful Derna who mislaid dozens of members of her extended household successful the flooding.

When she returned to the location she had fled from, each she recovered was a heap of dirt.

“Derna is gone,” she said.

Mr. al-Soor, the lawyer general, has started an investigation, but the nationalist is profoundly skeptical fixed the country’s agelong past of corruption and impunity. The lawyer wide is 1 of the fewer authorities positions agreed upon by some governments, and helium works with some sides.

The authorities person appointed a squad of Libyan prosecutors from antithetic parts of the state to analyse what caused the dams to illness and find whether attraction measures, which had been needed for years, could person prevented the illness of the dams.

“Everyone who made a mistake oregon committed neglect oregon fell abbreviated and caused this catastrophe volition of people person steadfast measures taken against them,” Mr. al-Soor vowed astatine a televised quality league connected Friday night.

Mr. al-Hasadi, the meteorologist, said the lawyer wide had conducted galore investigations earlier but that nary had led to justice.

“One of the problems with holding radical accountable is this occupation dates backmost precise far,” said Matthew Brubacher, a erstwhile economical advisor to the U.N. Support Mission successful Libya.

“Which of the successive governments which person travel to powerfulness would you clasp accountable for this,” helium asked, “especially erstwhile you person fragmented governments?”


A subsister prayed implicit the rubble of her destroyed location successful Derna.Credit...Karim Sahib/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mohammed Abdusamee contributed reporting from Tripoli, Lebanon.

Vivian Nereim is the Gulf bureau chief. She has much than a decennary of acquisition successful the Arabian Peninsula and was antecedently a newsman for Bloomberg News covering Saudi Arabia. More astir Vivian Nereim

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