“The humanitarian situation in Libya is nothing short of catastrophic,” said Bashir Omar, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Libya.
“The needs far exceed the capabilities of all international organizations operating in Libya and the local authorities. Consequently, international support is imperative to overcome this catastrophe,” he added.
Meanwhile, international aid shipments began to arrive in Libya on Saturday, providing a lifeline to thousands of survivors. The World Health Organization said 29 tonnes of aid had arrived in the eastern city of Benghazi.
Water-borne diseases could spread easily
Rescue groups also said the possibility of finding survivors seemed bleak, as they warned that the spread of disease could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.
A looming concern is the potential outbreak of cholera, which could pose a significant threat to survivors. Reports have already emerged of several children falling ill.
The Health Ministry of the Tripoli-based government of Libya has indicated that the rapid spread of this deadly bacteria is a significant risk due to groundwater contamination resulting from the presence of corpses, decaying animal carcasses, waste, and chemicals.
“We strongly advise people to avoid approaching the wells in Derna,” cautioned Libyan Health Minister Ibrahim Al-Arabi, referring to the city most severely impacted by the storm.
“Thousands of people don’t have anywhere to sleep and don’t have food,” said Salah Aboulgasem, the deputy director of partner development from the Islamic Relief organization. In conditions like this, diseases can quickly spread as water systems are contaminated. The city smells like death. Almost everyone has lost someone they know.”
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths stressed that the top priorities for Libya are “shelter, food, key primary medical care because of the worry of cholera, particularly in Libya the worry of lack of clean water.”
Floods caused two dams to collapse
The floods were caused by a powerful storm, which overwhelmed two dams, sending a wall of water several meters (yards) high through the eastern city of Derna, destroying entire neighborhoods and sweeping people out to sea.
Nearly 20,000 people are feared dead and more than 10,000 are missing, according to the Libyan Red Crescent.
Varying death toll figures have emerged from different sources, ranging from 5,000 to 11,000. The World Health Organization said “the bodies of 3,958 people have been recovered and identified,” while the official death toll rose to 3,166.
Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesman Major General Ahmed al-Mismari said 900,000 people lived in the affected areas. He said the floods washed away all roads and bridges and have made it difficult to travel from one area to the other.
Earlier on Friday, the ICRC dispatched a plane carrying 5,000 body bags from Geneva to Benghazi in eastern Libya.
On Friday, Libya’s Public Prosecutor Al-Siddiq Al-Sour said he would ensure justice for those responsible for the Derna Dam disaster. An investigation has been opened into what caused the collapse of the Wadi Derna dam, he said.
Libya is in a politically unstable situation as two rival governments strive for control. The country has been mired in chaos since the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, with one government based in the east and another in the capital, Tripoli.
Additionally, concerns have been raised about the presence of unexploded ordnance and abandoned munition stores in Derna, posing an “additional challenge” to residents, according to the Red Cross.
The collapse of the dams has sparked allegations of neglect and a lack of maintenance over the years. Following the disaster, online warnings surfaced about a third dam east of Benghazi being at risk of collapsing.
However, the east-based government reassured the public that the al-Qatra and Wadi Jaza dams were under control. Water and sanitation officials inspected both facilities and initiated efforts to install new pumps to alleviate pressure on Wadi Jaza.
This article was originally published on DW.