On the 4th of September, the Mediterranean Sea and its neighbouring nations were graced by the presence of Storm Daniel, who arrived and left within a week, but not without earning the title of the deadliest weather disaster of 2023; responsible for floods across Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Israel, Egypt, and for wiping out an entire town in Libya into oblivion.
Heavy rainfalls brought by the cyclone caused massive flooding in Eastern Libya, consequently overfilling 2 aged dams in the region. The situation was exacerbated by the collapse of the dams, releasing over 8 billion gallons of water to surge into Derna. Two weeks into the tragedy, the city of Derna, once home to 100,000, has now lost over 5,300 people with over 10,000 reported to be missing, and over 43,000 displaced.
One might need to put to use many of their fingers to point towards the blame, because there are a multitude of factors which contributed to the harrowing situation the world is presently witnessing. The most evident culprit is climate change. Libyan floods were 50 times more likely and equally intense solely due to global warming and subsequent unpredictable weather behaviours. While storms are naturally rare in the Mediterranean region, they have become more prevalent in the past few years due to warming climates. What is also rare is rainfall in arid regions, particularly during summer season. And without any familiarity of such extreme weathers, the region was severely underprepared for the storm.
While many Mediterranean countries suffered from alarmingly unprecedented floods, Libya’s circumstances were lone due to a supplemental factor: political instability. The floods were compounded by the incompetence of the government(s), the failures of corrupt, autocratic, and egotistic governments more focused on power struggles than the plight of the people. But these debacles were brought by many past political blunders dating back a decade.
The once glorious country was ruled by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, an infamous dictator whose legacy (or tyranny) continues to haunt the prosperity of the nation. Under Gaddafi, the country was thriving economically by pushing Libya from being one of the poorest to the richest in the continent, albeit by sacrificing political freedoms. His governance was internationally questioned and marred by allegations of political repressions, torture of dissidents, and lack of press freedom. Nevertheless, he was considered a popular figure in the global South largely ascribed to his anti-Zionist and anti-west persona.
All his glory came to an ignoble end as the pro-democracy protests in the Arab world spread to Libya in 2011. The Arab Spring gained traction in Gaddafi’s realm, ultimately culminating into a Civil War between pro-democracy revolutionaries and Gaddafi’s military forces. And as reports of bombing civilians reached the ears of the Western leaders, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was initiated against Gaddafi’s forces. UN resolutions were passed to freeze Gaddafi’s assets and establish a no-fly zone over Libya. Moreover, NATO joined in support of democracy revolutionaries. With the world by their side, NATO and the rebel forces launched an offensive campaign against Gaddafi. In less than eight months, Gaddafi was captured and killed.
Yet, democracy failed to blossom. As NATO deserted a Libya suffering from a power vacuum, the rebel forces separated into different factions and clashed against each other with the weapons provided and left by NATO, engendering another civil war – except this time, there is no leader at the top to look after the country.
The ongoing political rift has divided Libya between Western Libya, the internationally recognized government of Tripoli, and Eastern Libya with a provisional unofficial government who is answerable to the collapse of the two dams which decimated Derna. The governed regions of the provisional Eastern Libyan government survive without the resources required to maintain and manage structure and society from which the Western Libya thrives from; in particular the monetary assistance Tripoli receives as the official government. Amidst the civil war, most of the money generated by Eastern Libya from oil was spent on the war and its necessary equipment rather than development. Additionally, the city of Derna has also long been the battleground for many conflicts in Libya, including the Arab Spring, NATO Intervention, and the ongoing civil war.
Preoccupied by political crises, the governments’ ineptness is silenced as the dams collapse due to its age and deliberate neglect from the government despite several warnings of cracks and potential catastrophic flooding. While the political differences have been temporarily set aside to cooperate and aid the victims of Derna, the conflicts are the prime cause of the disaster itself. And as a reminder, many explosives from the previous and current wars lay buried in the city. With the rescue operations utilizing excavators to scrape out the debris sleeving Derna, some of the explosives could detonate, augmenting the collapse.
While NATO cannot be incriminated for Storm Daniel and its disastrous ramifications which befell Libya, their intervention is partially responsible for the country’s inability to recover from the calamity. And Libya is one of the many unfortunate countries who will face the damning trials of a warming earth, without any resources to protect themselves from the inevitable catastrophes. Libyan Floods and NATO Intervention