Most casualties in Libya floods could have been avoided: World Meteorological Organization chief


(LONDON) — Most of the casualties in the devastating Libya floods could have been avoided if the divided country had a functioning meteorological service, the head of the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization said Thursday.

At least 6,000 people have died after widespread flooding washed away entire neighborhoods in eastern Libya over the weekend during Mediterranean storm Daniel. At least 9,000 people are missing, according to the Libyan Interior Ministry.

The port city of Derna was especially hard-hit; the collapse of two dams wiped out a quarter of the area. The deaths in the city could reach upwards of 20,000 people, based on the extent of the damage, according to Derna Mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi.

World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the tragedy in the North African nation demonstrates the “devastating and cascading consequences of extreme weather on fragile states.”

“If there would have been a normally operating meteorological service, they could have issued warnings,” Taalas said during a briefing Thursday in Geneva. “The emergency management authorities would have been able to carry out evacuation of the people. And we could have avoided most of the human casualties.”

In a statement Thursday, Taalas said that Libya’s National Meteorological Center did issue early warnings for heavy precipitation and floods, but they didn’t address the “risk posed by the aging dams.”

“The fragmentation of the country’s disaster management and disaster response mechanisms, as well as deteriorating infrastructure, exacerbated the enormity of the challenges,” Taalas said. “The political situation is a driver of risk, as we are seeing in many countries currently.”

The country’s National Meteorological Center is also challenged by “chronic” staffing shortages and poorly functioning IT systems, he said.

“The National Meteorological Center is trying to function, but its ability to do so is limited,” Taalas said. “The entire chain of disaster management and governance is disrupted.”

Libya has been politically fractured since a 2011 uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, with two administrations in the east and west.

Gen. Khalifa Haftar, head of the powerful Libyan military faction that controls the eastern part of the divided country, said in a televised address on Tuesday that they have directed the government to form a specialized committee “to assess the damage, instantly begin the reconstruction of roads to facilitate transportation, restore the electricity and to take all immediate and needed measures in that regard.”

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