Dr. Jebril El-Abidi
Libyan writer and researcher

Libya… After the Shock 

Millions of our Arab and Muslim brothers voiced their immense despair after the flood that hit Libya, and they rushed to help the victims and support the country. The one exception was the cacophonous voice of Moqtada al-Sadr, who did nothing but revel in the suffering of the victims and obnoxiously gloat at those who had drowned.

Given the indecency of his dishonorable reaction as millions of Muslims, Arabs, and Christians shared their condolences and strove to come to the aid of the victims in Libya, we will not pay any attention to the schadenfreude of Moqtada al-Sadr, who justified it with a crime that they had not committed. Indeed Moussa al-Sadr disappeared 40 years ago, in mysterious circumstances, and the charge against the presumed perpetrator, Moammar al-Gaddafi, has not been proven, and his grave has also disappeared.

Regardless of the abhorrent schadenfreude of Moqtada al-Sadr and his attempt to exploit this humanitarian crisis for political ends, the floods in Libya brought many deep to the surface. These major shortcomings quickly became apparent once everyone had recovered from their shock and horror at the massive flood that struck East Libya, Cyrenaica to be more precise.

This flood ravaged its agriculture, buildings, and people. The scale of the destruction was such that the beautiful and prosperous city of Derna has been turned to ruins and become a ghost town where the threat of an epidemic looms. Its groundwater has shown signs of contamination due to the decomposition of bodies, most of which have yet to be buried because they are difficult to reach.

This is a humanitarian tragedy in every sense of the word. Hearing about it is not the same as talking about it in the midst of the suffering, or seeing piles of bodies in the streets. A calamity has befallen Libya... Entire families, including parents, children, grandchildren, and even grandparents, have all died. Some have no one to console them or to accept condolences from all their kin and even neighbors have perished.

Solidarity and the support of the Libyan masses have been more consequential than state intervention, as both the people of the West and the South rushed to rise above any political differences they may have with the East and rushed to provide relief and equipment. The scenes were met with tears of joy despite the melancholy felt across Libya after the horror of this humanitarian disaster.

This was a disaster that required risk management protocols, whose implementation demands the strategization, skills, policies, and practical capabilities of specialists in the field. Implementing these protocols is necessary for mitigating the ramifications.

However, although Libya does have a law on the protocols of a state of emergency and its powers to allow, the management of this crisis was done through “donations” and an unorganized volunteer system during the first few days. This exhausted those on the ground and made their work inefficient - immense effort was put in only to yield poor results. However, once experienced Arab and foreign teams arrived, things changed and the management of the crisis began improving.

These numerous and recurring problems have become patently obvious because of the scale of this disaster, which is bigger than the two Libyan governments disputing over legitimacy. The country now needs stable management, cooperation, and international expertise to confront a disaster of this magnitude.

Indeed, the Libyan institutions on the ground lack the capacity to address it properly, especially since Libya is not prone to disasters due to its geographical location and the stability of the climate. Libya’s good fortune in this regard led the previous regime to take a lax approach to equipping and training ambulance, emergency, and rescue and evacuation teams to properly deal with such circumstances.

Fortunately, no epidemics have spread yet, despite the accumulation of corpses over the first few days that followed the flood. This claim is backed by WHO reports, which say that the threat of an epidemic is mitigated by the fact these are the corpses of victims who had been in good health, not ill. Another mitigating factor is that the victims were buried swiftly and in a manner appropriate for averting an epidemic.

Nonetheless, the problems are endless.

The fate of the children of Derna who have lost their families is one other issue. They require treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, which is even more urgent for them than it is for adults. This requires teams of qualified psychologists. They must begin treating these children now in order to mitigate the psychological repercussions and these children’s suffering. They should not be left to deal with night terrors and other responses to trauma without psychological support.

While psychological wounds are often neglected and seen as a luxury in the relief process, the advanced world and medical practitioners see it as the urgent priority that it is. It is just as pressing as providing water and food to the survivors of the disaster.

The lesson everyone should learn from this disaster is that they must implement plans to mitigate the risks of disasters after hurricanes, floods, and even earthquakes. Indeed, disasters have become a frequent and unwelcome guest of the Arab world.