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Libya’s Catastrophic Flooding

Context:

More than 5,000 people are known to have died and thousands more are missing after devastating floods swept through the Libyan port city of Derna. Entire neighbourhoods disappeared into the sea as a huge tsunami-like torrent of water swept through the city.

Relevance:

GS I: Geography

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Factors Behind the Catastrophic Flooding in Derna
  2. Impacts
  3. Geographical location of Derna

Factors Behind the Catastrophic Flooding in Derna

Extreme Weather:

  • The region experienced unprecedented rainfall from September 10 to 11, with Derna receiving over 150 mm of rainfall in just two days, significantly exceeding the average monthly rainfall for September.
  • The rains were accompanied by strong winds reaching up to 80 kph.
  • The extreme weather was brought about by Storm Daniel, which transitioned into a ‘medicane’ or a tropical-like cyclone, fueled by abnormally warm Mediterranean waters.

Vulnerable Geography:

  • Derna’s location played a significant role in the widespread damage it suffered.
  • It is situated at the end of a valley and is intersected by the Wadi Derna, a seasonal river flowing from the mountains to the south toward the sea.
  • Normally, dams protect the city from flooding caused by the river. However, the heavy rains overwhelmed these dams and led to significant destruction.

Crumbling Infrastructure:

  • The collapse of the dams in Derna exposed the poor state of Libya’s infrastructure.
  • The country has been embroiled in a decade-long war between rival factions, leading to a neglect of socio-economic issues, including infrastructure development.
  • The absence of flood-resilient structures, roads, and early-warning systems exacerbated the impact of the flooding, as Libya was ill-prepared to face such a calamity.
  • The devastating floods exposed the lack of disaster preparedness in the region, especially in Derna.

Impacts:

  • Property Damage: Urban flooding damages buildings, infrastructure, and properties, leading to substantial economic losses for individuals, businesses, and municipalities.
  • Displacement and Loss of Life: Residents may be forced to evacuate flooded areas, leading to temporary displacement. In extreme cases, urban flooding can result in loss of life.
  • Health Risks: Contaminated floodwater can pose health hazards due to pollutants and diseases, increasing the risk of waterborne illnesses among residents.
  • Infrastructure Strain: Floods strain urban infrastructure, disrupt transportation, and damage roads, bridges, and utilities.
  • Environmental Degradation: Floods can lead to soil erosion, sediment buildup, and loss of vegetation, affecting overall ecosystem health.
  • Economic Disruption: Urban flooding disrupts businesses, interrupts services, and impacts the local economy, potentially leading to job losses and decreased economic activity.
  • Long-Term Resilience: Frequent urban flooding may erode community resilience, as residents and local governments grapple with recovery and rebuilding efforts.

Geographical location of Derna

  • Derna, situated in eastern Libya, is a coastal port city positioned along the Mediterranean Sea between Benghazi and Tobruk.
  • It finds itself at the eastern terminus of the Jebel Akhdar, also known as the “green mountains.”
  • The city is divided by the Wadi Derna, a seasonal river originating from the southern highlands and flowing through the city.

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