A week after deadly floods in Derna, the UN warned Monday of the spread of disease as rescuers continue to search for the bodies of thousands of missing people presumed dead. On the ground, NGOs are prioritizing the provision of water, food and medical and psychological assistance to relieve residents traumatized by the disaster. On Monday, hundreds of them demonstrated to demand accountability from the eastern authorities.
In eastern Libya, chaos continues. A week after devastating floods caused by the rupture of two dams under the pressure of torrential rains from Storm Daniel, rescue operations continue, while the toll, still provisional, is extremely heavy. According to the latest official count from the Ministry of Health, communicated Monday September 18, some 3,338 people died in the disaster. For its part, the UN estimates the number of missing at nearly 10,000.
While on the ground, the sea continues to carry away bodies and many corpses have yet to be extracted from the rubble, the UN warned on Monday that its agencies were working to prevent the spread of diseases, particularly in Derna.
“The (World Health Organization (WHO)) team continues to work to prevent the spread of disease and avoid a second devastating crisis in the region,” said the UN, whose agencies are “all concerned by the risk of spreading diseases, particularly through contaminated water and lack of hygiene.
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“All water access points are damaged”
Death is everywhere, the sea continues to carry away bodies, the smell of corpses, which still have to be removed from the rubble, is omnipresent. Olivier Routeau, operations director for Première Urgence Internationale (PUI), whose teams operate in El Beïda, 75 kilometers west of Derna, confirms an “extraordinary, catastrophic situation”.
The risks mentioned by UN agencies primarily concern drinking water. The WHO has notably called for an end to the use of mass graves, which represent a serious health risk if bodies are buried near water points.
“This gesture aims not only to manage the distress of the population, but it is also motivated by the fear that these remains constitute a health risk,” explains the WHO in a press release, adding that this approach can prove harmful for the population.
“Given the number of deaths and the destruction of infrastructure, this is a major issue,” explains Olivier Routeau on our antenna. “Cities are still left to their own devices because aid has not arrived, so populations are organizing themselves without necessarily having all the skills in risk management and anticipation.”
“For your safety, it is forbidden to use or drink water from the local network, because it is polluted by flooding,” warned the Libyan Center for Disease Control.
In Derna, 150 people were contaminated by polluted water, and 55 children died of poisoning after drinking this unclean water, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“All water access points are damaged, which becomes a major risk,” continues Olivier Routeau.
Access to water, food and medicine are today the priority of the NGOs on site, in particular PUI, which says it is carrying out work to restore access to services, and not civil security work, and whose The challenge today is to “save the living”.
Psychological assistance, “poor relation of emergency response”
On the English-speaking channel of France 24, Florent Del Pinto, head of the Emergency Operations Center at the International Federation of Red Cross Societies, insists on the psychological support provided to populations, “families having to face terrible trauma.
For PUI, present in Benghazi since 2017, emergency psychological care is also a necessity. “It is sometimes the poor relation, the forgotten one in the emergency response,” laments Olivier Routeau. However, he says, “we must be able to support these people and help them to psychologically survive this trauma.”
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In a Libya where political chaos has reigned since the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the organization of relief and the work of NGOs remain complicated. The country is led by two rival administrations vying for power: one in Tripoli (west), led by Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah and recognized by the UN, and the other in the east of the country, embodied by the Parliament of Tobruk and affiliated with the camp of powerful Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
This situation has no effect for the Red Cross, explains Florent Del Pinto, citing the “neutrality” of the organization. “We coordinate with the governing entity on the ground where we operate,” he specifies.
Faced with the scale of the catastrophe, the rival camps seem in all cases to have put their quarrels on hold. Significant aid and relief teams were sent from Tripoli to the disaster areas.
On Monday, the government of Tripoli also announced the launch of work for the construction of a “temporary bridge” over the wadi which crosses Derna, the two banks of the city having been cut since the floods swept away the four structures which connected.
However, for the population those responsible for the chaos are obvious. On Monday, hundreds of Dernaouis demonstrated in front of the city’s large mosque, chanting slogans hostile to the eastern authorities, and demanding that Parliament, and in particular its leader, Aguilah Saleh, be held accountable.
“The people want the fall of Parliament”, “Aguila (Saleh) is the enemy of God”, “the blood of martyrs is not shed in vain”, or even “those who stole or betrayed must be hanged” , they chanted.
In a statement read during the demonstration on behalf of the “residents of Derna”, they called for “a rapid investigation and legal action against those responsible for the disaster”.
According to experts, the political situation in Libya has overshadowed the issue of maintaining vital infrastructure, such as the Derna dams, the collapse of which is at the origin of the tragedy experienced by the population.
Source: France 24