Libyan authorities open investigation into dam collapses amid fears ‘negligence’ played part in flood crisis

Libyan authorities have opened an investigation into the collapse of two dams that caused a catastrophic flood in the country last week, amid concerns that “negligence” may have contributed to the disaster that has killed more than 11,000 so far.

Al-Sediq al-Sour, Libya’s general prosecutor, said authorities would probe the collapse of the dams, which were built in the 1970s, as well as the poor allocation of maintenance funds over the past few decades.

“I reassure citizens that whoever made mistakes or negligence, prosecutors will certainly take firm measures, file a criminal case against him and send him to trial,” he told a news conference in the port city of Derna on Friday.

The general prosecutor said officials would also investigate local authorities in the disaster-struck city, as well as previous Libyan governments.

It remains unclear how the investigation will work in practice, since Libya has been split between rival administrations backed by powerful militias over the past decade, following the toppling of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

However, the Government is under pressure to act amid concerns from experts and academics that their warnings about a potential disaster went unheeded in the run-up to the dams’ collapse.

At least 11,300 people have died in the catastrophe so far, according to the Libyan Red Crescent. A further 10,100 are reported missing.

Heavy rains caused by Mediterranean storm Daniel caused deadly flooding across eastern Libya last weekend. The floods overwhelmed two dams, sending a wall of water several metres high through the centre of Derna, destroying entire neighbourhoods and sweeping people out to sea.

Searchers are still digging through mud and rubble six days after the flood looking for bodies and possible survivors in the city of 90,000.

A car is submerged in mud after a powerful storm and heavy rainfall hit Libya, in Derna, Libya September 16, 2023. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A car is submerged in mud after a powerful storm and heavy rainfall hit Libya in the port city of Derna last weekend (Photo: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)
DERNA, LIBYA - SEPTEMBER 15: Search and rescue operations continue after the floods caused by the Storm Daniel ravaged the region in Derna, Libya on September 15, 2023. At least 6,000 people were killed and thousands of others remain missing due to last weekend's floods in eastern Libya, according to official figures. Torrential rains and floods from Storm Daniel swept several areas on Sunday in eastern Libya, most notably Benghazi, Al-Bayda, and Al-Marj, as well as Soussa and Derna. (Photo by Abdullah Mohammed Bonja/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Search and rescue operations continue after the floods caused by the Storm Daniel ravaged the region. More than 11,300 people are thought to have been killed and thousands of others remain missing (Photo: Abdullah Mohammed Bonja/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Rescuers carry body bags as they walk in front of buildings that collapsed during floods after the Mediterranean storm
Rescuers carry body bags as they walk in front of buildings that collapsed during floods as hopes of finding more survivors fade days after the deadly flooding (Photo: Abdullah Doma/AFP via Getty Images)

Aid organisations have also warned that the coming period could see the spread of disease and further deaths caused by major difficulties in delivering aid to those most in need.

Islamic Relief warned of a “second humanitarian crisis” following last week’s flood, as it issued a stark alert about the “growing risk of water-borne diseases and shortages of food, shelter and medicine”.

Dr Ahmed Zouiten, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) representative in Libya, said on Saturday that the situation was quickly becoming “a disaster of epic proportions”.

“We are saddened by the unspeakable loss of thousands of souls. Our thoughts are with the families who have lost loved ones, as well as with all of the affected communities,” he said.

“We are committed to providing the necessary support to restore health services for the affected population in eastern Libya.”

The WHO said it has sent enough health supplies to reach 250,000 people in Libya. The aid package, which arrived in Benghazi on Saturday, includes 29 metric tonnes of equipment including essential medicines, trauma and emergency surgery supplies, medical equipment and body bags.

The port of Benghazi is roughly 300 km away from Derna, which is difficult to reach due to destroyed roads and infrastructure.

The storm has also damaged other areas in eastern Libya, including the towns of Bayda, Susa, Marj and Shahatt. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in the region and have been forced to take shelter in schools and government buildings.

The United Nations (UN) has launched an urgent appeal to raise $71.4m (£57.7m) to deliver aid to people impacted by the floods in Libya over the next three months, saying that the death toll could rise without more help.

The UN estimates that more than 880,000 people in five provinces live in areas directly affected by the storm and flash floods.

The UK Government said on Saturday it would ramp up support for Libya and expand an initial package worth up to £1m announced earlier this week to provide emergency shelter items, portable solar lanterns and water filters for the region.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has pledged a £10m support package in total for both the crisis in Libya and the earthquake in Morocco last week, which killed almost 3,000 people.