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Flood disaster in Libya: truth and anger after the flood

After the flood disaster, residents demonstrate in Darna. Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly clear that warnings have been given about the danger of a dam bursting.

Angry people at protests.

Protest in front of the Sahaba Mosque in Darna on Monday Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

TUNIS taz | As international search parties and volunteers from the Libyan Crescent aid organization continue to search for survivors in the rubble of the port city of Darna, the survivors’ apathy turns to anger. On Monday afternoon, several hundred citizens protested in the city against the parliament meeting in eastern Libya and its chairman Aguila Saleh.

The parliamentarians, who have met without a mandate since 2016, have so far neither presented an emergency plan nor expressed public solidarity with the victims Flood disaster of September 11th shown. Last week, Saleh categorically ruled out any possibility of human error. In the same breath, the 79-year-old called on the central bank to transfer the future reconstruction fund to parliament’s accounts.

Since then, a storm of indignation has swept through the country. Because there is increasing evidence that the maintenance and reinforcement paid for in 2012 two dams above Darna that burst on Sunday, was never carried out. In addition, according to statements from people on site, the authorities had apparently ignored warnings from residents hours before the tidal wave.

After on Saturday as much rain as had normally fallen in a year, the residents of the villages around the reservoir left their homes in panic. They told the authorities in Darna that they expected the dams to collapse imminently due to the immense amount of rainfall.

But because of the raging storm and an apparently previously issued order not to leave their houses, most residents stayed at home. They expected increased sea levels, but not a 12-meter-high tidal wave coming from the mountains. A study by the anti-corruption authority in Tripoli that emerged in the last few days shows that the danger posed by the “Wadi Darna” reservoir had been known for a long time.

“Traitors must hang”

A movement has now emerged on social media that wants to put an end to corruption, the theft of public money and the abuse of power by politicians. Slogans such as “The people want the parliament to fall”, “Aguila is the enemy of God” and “Thieves and traitors must hang” were chanted by the crowd in Darna on Monday.

Disinfecting multiple body bags after a disaster.

Darna on Tuesday: The bodies are disinfected before a burial in a mass grave Photo: Esam Omran Al-Fetori/reuters

A spokesman for several civil society organizations read a statement to the municipal administration calling for “a rapid investigation and legal action against those responsible for the disaster.” Civil society, which has traditionally had a strong presence in Darna, is also calling for the United Nations to be present in the city to monitor reconstruction and compensation payments for those affected.

Unproven allegations have been circulating for a long time that Mayor Abdulmoneim al-Ghaithi, who was fired at the weekend, diverted household funds to his private accounts. On Monday evening, the protesters burned down al-Gaithi’s private home. The Prime Minister in eastern Libya, Osama Hamad, also dismissed the Darna city council on Tuesday.

“The dismissals and the investigation of those responsible announced by the government in Tripoli will not lead to any result,” says activist Lobna Almustari, echoing the opinion of many in the city. Many of the demonstrators were relatives of flood victims. On September 11th, thousands of houses, some of them along with their residents, were buried under mud or completely washed into the Mediterranean.

There were many warnings

Experts had been warning about the structural integrity of the twin dams in Darna for years, as the Libyan public prosecutor’s office in Tripoli has now confirmed. The concerns have existed since 1986, when the dams were severely damaged after a violent storm. But even before that, in 1959, several hundred people had died in a flood disaster. Yugoslav engineers redesigned the dams above Darna in the late 1970s.

Libyan Attorney General Al-Siddiq al-Sour said on Monday that a 1998 study commissioned by the Libyan government showed the cracks and gaps in the dam structures. In 2007, the Turkish company Arsel Construction Company was commissioned to maintain the two dams and build a third dam.

According to the company’s website, work was completed in November 2012, but according to satellite photos and activists in Darna, the planned third security dam was never built. After the flood on the Sunday before last, Arsel’s website is no longer accessible.

A report from the state technical inspection authority in Tripoli said that around $2 million was transferred in 2012 and 2013 for the maintenance of the twin dams. In fact, the 2021 report states that the two existing dams were never maintained.

“The nationwide wave of solidarity with Darna could soon turn against the political elite,” a protester in Darna told taz on the phone. How seriously the authorities are taking the anger is shown by an ultimatum given to Libyan and international journalists who traveled to Darna. They should leave the city by Tuesday afternoon, the TV channel al-Hadath reported on Tuesday.

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