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Hydrologist Abdul Wanis Ashour, who has studied the dam system around Libya's Derna port for 17 years, discovered several issues that posed a threat to the town's residents. These issues included cracks in the dams, irregular rainfall, and frequent flooding. In a recent academic paper, Ashour cautioned that unless the dams were urgently maintained, Derna could face a catastrophe.
Warnings of Disaster Ignored
Ashour noted that prior warnings had been issued about the dams' condition. The Libyan government was well aware of the situation in the Derna River Valley and the potential danger it posed. Experts from the Public Water Commission and foreign companies had assessed the dams. Yet, despite these warnings, the necessary actions were not taken.
The Catastrophe Unfolds
On the night of September 10, the dry riverbed of Derna Wadi, which is typically devoid of water most of the year, breached the dams that were supposed to contain it. This happened due to heavy rains in the hills, resulting in widespread destruction in the city below. Thousands of people have died, and thousands more are missing.
Abdulqader Mohamed Alfakhakhri, along with other residents, witnessed a heart-wrenching scene as their neighbors clung to rooftops, only to be carried away by the raging floodwaters.
Despite finding safety on the roof of his own four-story building, Alfakhakhri was a firsthand witness to the unfolding tragedy. The catastrophic flood in Derna left a lasting impact on those who survived, forever haunted by the memory of the disaster that claimed the lives of so many.
The disaster in Derna has left many Libyans seething with anger and frustration because it could have been prevented had earlier warnings been heeded. This catastrophic event stands as one of the deadliest disasters in Libya's contemporary history, highlighting the tragic consequences of neglecting critical dam repairs despite multiple cautionary signals. The collective grief and outrage of the affected community serve as a stark reminder of the importance of proactive measures to safeguard against such devastating calamities.
A Failure to Act
Efforts to repair the dams near Derna date back to 2007 when a Turkish company was contracted for the work. However, following Muammar Gaddafi's ousting in 2011, Derna was held by various militant factions, making it nearly impossible for the contractor to complete the renovations.
Despite the city eventually coming under the control of the eastern administration, the dam repairs did not resume. In 2021, a report from Libya's Audit Bureau pointed out the "inaction" of the Water Resources Ministry, which had failed to move forward with maintenance work on the dams.
The collapse of the dams during Storm Daniel's deluge exceeded their capacity, causing the widespread destruction witnessed in Derna. However, even if the maintenance had been completed, the dams would still have failed.
The tragic events in Derna highlight the devastating consequences of ignoring expert warnings and failing to address critical infrastructure issues, ultimately resulting in a disaster of unprecedented magnitude.