Libya finds itself in a dire situation. It is not just the recent floods last week that has weakened its stability it is also facing a deeply heated conflict between a war lord General Khalifah Haftar in the East and the internationally recognized government in the West in Tripoli.1 Experts have attributed climate change to being a factor in the disaster of the floods.2 According to the World Weather Attribution (WWA) one of the key findings of an attribution analysis was that ‘An event as extreme as the one observed over Libya has become up to 50 times more likely and up to 50% more intense compared to a 1.2℃ cooler climate.”3
But a rise in temperatures was not the only factor that led to the disaster that led to the destruction.4 This tragic unfolding was compounded by a confluence of factors, including the political instability, a decade-long civil war, deteriorating infrastructure and inadequate emergency systems.5 Hydrologist Günter Blöschl, at the Vienna University of Technology, said in an interview with the journal Nature that the country’s poor infrastructure was important as the extreme weather in creating devastation and that “lack of maintenance is certainly one of the reasons that contributed to the disaster”.6 This critical maintenance was likely stymied by the socioeconomic and political instability that has plagued Libya since the overthrow and killing of long time ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.7
Libya’s prosecutor general has ordered the arrest of eight officials as part of his inquiry into the recent flood disaster that killed thousands, his office said on Monday. The flash flood, which witnesses likened to a tsunami, broke through two ageing dams on September 10 after a hurricane-strength storm lashed the area around Derna, a port city in Libya’s east. The officials are suspected of “bad management” and negligence, among other offences, a statement from the prosecutor general’s office said, adding that seven of them served currently or previously in offices responsible for water resources and dam management. “The mistakes that they made” and their “negligence in the matter of disaster prevention” contributed to the catastrophe, the statement charged.
Derna’s mayor Abdulmonem al-Ghaithi, sacked after the flood, is among the detainees. According to the latest toll announced by the authorities in the east of the country on Monday, at least 3,875 people died in the disaster. International aid groups have said 10,000 or more people may be missing. After opening a probe, Libya’s prosecutor general Al-Seddik al-Sour said more than a week ago that the two dams upstream from Derna had been cracked since 1998. But repairs begun by a Turkish company in 2010 were suspended after a few months when Libya’s 2011 revolution flared, and the work never resumed, the prosecutor said, vowing to deal firmly with those responsible. According to Sour’s office, the investigation is focused on a dam maintenance contract reached between the Turkish firm and Libya’s water department. It said 16 people are being investigated for their roles in the maintenance of the dams. (Libya orders 8 officials arrested after flood disaster)
The political division and conflict that has divided Libya between East and West had much to do with the ongoing corruption in the country, that contributed to the neglect and collapse of the dam. The loss of life will contribute to further apathy to the state by the people. Power has been misused and abused. Those eight who have been arrested must face prosecution for their crimes. I do not know if they will face the death penalty which the country still retains. But they should not see the light of day again outside closed walls. The Libyan people need to call for an end to the current civil war and press for unity. General Haftar needs to recognize he can’t overwhelm the General National Congress (GNC) recognized by the United Nations in Tripoli and step aside.
If Haftar can’t do this, then perhaps he should face pressure to step aside. The GNC in Tripoli has to call for a truce and decide what form of Libya do they want. Is it a divided Libya under foreign occupation, by Turkiye which has a substantial military presence in the west of the country? Or do they want a unified Libyan under the 1951 constitution under a federal system with a constitutional monarchy? Libya is on the brink of being split into two regions: a Libyan state in the west and Cyrenaica in east. But that could only be temporary and not make anyone happy. The eight perpetrators under arrest could face prison for life or the death penalty depending on what the courts say. But this could be frustrated by who has jurisdiction over the legal affairs of the Derna Municipality. With over 300 people dead their families, relatives and friends will call for justice.
Whichever side or political system in Libya offers that justice will win massive support. Another issue is who will be responsible for the dam’s reconstruction and as well as the city’s repairs? All this needs to answered in time.