14 May 2024

Libya - Years of conflict and weakened infrastructure compound Derna flood impact

Storm Daniel, an unusually powerful Mediterranean storm, hit the coast of Libya on 10 September 2023. It triggered 52,000 internal displacements, 45 per cent of which were reported in the port city of Derna, home to 100,000 people, which experienced precipitation levels 100 times the monthly average. Lack of investment in infrastructure also contributed to increasing disaster displacement risk. Two ageing dams near the city breached, causing extensive flooding, severely damaging infrastructure and killing thousands. Derna’s inhabitants were already in a vulnerable situation as a result of recurring conflict and violence, illustrating how the impacts of disasters and conflict can combine and lead to catastrophic outcomes.

Derna’s infrastructure was underfunded for decades, a situation that worsened after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The Islamic State group captured the city in 2014, just as a nationwide conflict erupted between two opposing governments. The Libyan National Army, based in the east of the country, took Derna back in early 2019 after a prolonged siege that led to at least 24,000 displacements and further damaged the city’s infrastructure and basic services. Despite a ceasefire established in 2020 between the two governments, insecurity and political instability have persisted, further weakening disaster risk reduction efforts, including the renovation and maintenance of dams.

Map of 52,000 internal displacements by storm Daniel in Libya

Before Daniel hit, the city was home to around 8,700 migrants, many of whom lived in precarious conditions in low-lying neighbourhoods along the valley below the dams. These areas were among those that bore the brunt of the flooding. More than 90 per cent of the migrants displaced by Daniel were reported in Derna.

Despite their varied backgrounds, IDPs, returnees and migrants faced similar needs, especially in accessing accommodation, food and healthcare. All of these needs were even more difficult to meet because the floods damaged more than three-quarters of the city’s markets and hospitals and a third of its housing stock. The greatest challenge, however, was affordability, pointing to financial needs and struggles to rebuild livelihoods.

Disagreements between the two governments hindered response efforts in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. The absence of a centralised system for shelter management and registration was a challenge for survivors whose homes were destroyed. Data collection to determine the exact number of people killed, missing and displaced also faced access constraints. Improved cooperation between the two governments over time and the involvement of international partners helped to step up the response and early recovery. However, based on the last assessment in November 2023, 52 per cent of those displaced by the floods were still living in displacement across the country, 24,000 of them in Derna.

Peacebuilding and disaster risk reduction initiatives will need to be mainstreamed and strengthened as part of Derna’s recovery. Reconstruction will need to include building resilience to future shocks and supporting both newly displaced people and those living in longer-term displacement in overcoming their vulnerabilities.

For references and additional information, please see the full report.