Mon | Oct 2, 2023

Disastrous floods become a rallying cry for unity

Published:Monday | September 18, 2023 | 12:07 AM
Rescuers and relatives search for bodies of the flood victims at the corniche of the city of Derna, Libya.
Rescuers and relatives search for bodies of the flood victims at the corniche of the city of Derna, Libya.


Zahra el-Gerbi wasn’t expecting much of a response to her online fundraiser, but she felt she had to do something after four of her relatives died in the flooding that decimated the eastern Libyan city of Derna. She put out a call for donations for those displaced by the deluge.

In the first half-hour after she shared it on Facebook, the Benghazi-based clinical nutritionist said friends and strangers were already promising financial and material support.

“It’s for basic needs like clothes, foods and accommodation,” el-Gerbi said.

For many Libyans, the collective grief over the more than 11,000 dead has morphed into a rallying cry for national unity in a country blighted by 12 years of conflict and division. In turn, the tragedy has ramped up pressure on the country’s leading politicians, viewed by some as the architects of the catastrophe.

The oil-rich country has been divided between rival administrations since 2014, with an internationally recognised government in Tripoli and a rival authority in the east, where Derna is located. Both are backed by international patrons and armed militias whose influence in the country has ballooned since a NATO-backed Arab Spring uprising toppled autocratic ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Numerous United Nations-led initiatives to bridge the divide have failed.

In the early hours of September 11, two dams in the mountains above Derna burst, sending a wall of water two stories high into the city and sweeping entire neighbourhoods out to sea. At least 11,300 people were killed and a further 30,000 displaced.

An outpouring of support for the people of Derna followed. Residents from the nearby cities of Benghazi and Tobruk offered to put up the displaced. In Tripoli, some 1,450 kilometres (900 miles) west, a hospital said it would perform operations free of charge for any injured in the flood.