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Libya flood damage ‘defies comprehension’: UN official

An aerial view shows Libya's eastern city of Derna on September 18, 2023, following deadly flash floods. (AFP)
An aerial view shows Libya's eastern city of Derna on September 18, 2023, following deadly flash floods. (AFP)
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19 Sep 2023 01:09:16 GMT9
19 Sep 2023 01:09:16 GMT9
  • Georgette Gagnon appeals to warring factions to unite and meet victims’ needs
  • ‘The UN has met with the Libyan leaders in all parts of the country,’ she tells Arab News

Caspar Webb

NEW YORK: The flood damage in eastern Libya “defies comprehension,” the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for the country said in a press briefing on Monday, two days after visiting the disaster zone in Derna.

Georgette Gagnon’s visit to the coastal city followed a trip three months ago, with the damage that followed Storm Daniel leaving the area “barely recognizable.”

She called for a renewed international response to the crisis, which has affected up to 300,000 children, according to UNICEF.

“People have either left or are dead,” Gagnon said. Search and rescue operations are still ongoing, though the chance of finding bodies is “quite slim,” she added.

Given the nature and scope of the tragedy, the UN is “very concerned” with the health impact and potential spread of waterborne diseases, as water sources and sewer networks have been severely damaged.

Flooding has also shifted landmines and unexploded ordnance in eastern Libya, putting displaced people at risk of injury and death.

“One aspect, of course, that can’t be overstated is the psychological toll of the disaster, especially on children,” Gagnon said. “Psychosocial support is a priority in our response.”

Local partners were on the ground within hours, as were local communities and groups, she added.

The Libyan Red Crescent and LIBAID worked closely with the UN to distribute initial supplies.

The global response is “coming together” and is “well underway,” with the UN “trying to navigate the challenges of the damaged infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges,” Gagnon said.

Many countries have “stepped up” and are providing different kinds of international support, search and rescue teams, as well as mobilizing aid aircraft and ships.

That includes Saudi Arabia, which has sent three aircraft to Libya. Other Gulf states, including the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar, have also taken part in the disaster response.

When asked by Arab News about the financial demands required to address the crisis, Gagnon said: “We issued a flash appeal to international partners for $71.4 million to address the immediate impact of the crisis.”

When asked by Arab News if she had met with Libyan leaders, Gagnon replied: “The UN has met with the Libyan leaders in all parts of the country about what the situation is and how they can work with us, with other members of the international organizations, with Libyans, with each other, to address all the needs of the people affected.”

She also discussed concerns surrounding the fractured nature of Libyan politics, amid fears that regional rivalries could impede a successful nationwide response to the crisis.

“If there ever was a moment, it’s now — for all the Libyan institutions and authorities to come together to work with a unity of purpose and a unity of effort,” she said, adding that “there have been exchanges between (rival) authorities” in providing aid to flood victims.

Teams from nine UN agencies, including UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization, have been on the ground delivering aid and support to flood victims.

Gagnon met with members of the Derna community in Tripoli. Their message was “consistent with what I heard in Derna on Saturday,” she said.

They have asked that “Derna not be forgotten” and “look to the UN and international community to support them, and provide them with assistance.”

Gagnon added: “They expressed their wish that the tragedy brings the fractured country together and unites all Libyans. This is a message which I’m sure everyone can and should get behind.”

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