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Recovery and sanitation efforts Derna, Libya. Questions are being asked about whether the disaster could not have been prevented. Photo: Reuters

Libya floods: UN warns of concerning situation at 2 more dams after Derna disaster

  • Thousands were killed after two dams above the Libyan city of Derna broke on September 10 during a powerful storm
  • The United Nations’ OCHA said it had concerns about the stability of two other dams between Derna and Benghazi

Following the devastating floods earlier this month in Libya, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said it was concerned about two more dams which were reportedly dealing with massive amounts of pressure.

The dams in question are the Jaza Dam – between the partly destroyed city of Derna and Benghazi – and the Qattara Dam near Benghazi, the OCHA said.

However there have been “contradictory reports” over the dams’ stability, OCHA said. Both dams were in good condition and functioning, according to authorities. Pumps were being installed at the Jaza dam to relieve pressure on the dam, OCHA cited authorities as saying.

Derna was badly hit after the severe storm on September 10, mainly due to the breach of two dams.


‘Dream of a lifetime, ended in a moment’: Libyan flood victims recount horror in Derna

‘Dream of a lifetime, ended in a moment’: Libyan flood victims recount horror in Derna

The deluge proved deadly for thousands in just seconds, uprooting residential buildings and washing away roads and bridges.

More than 11,300 people were reported killed, and over 10,000 remained missing a week after the disaster, according to the Libyan Red Crescent and the United Nations.

‘Smell of death everywhere’: corpses pile up in flood-hit Libyan city

Experts had long said that floods posed a significant danger of those two dams, Abu Mansour and Derna, which were meant to protect nearly 90,000 people in the northeast of Libya.

They repeatedly called for immediate maintenance to the two structures, located just uphill from Derna. But successive governments in the chaos-stricken North African nation did not react.

“In the event of a big flood, the consequences will be disastrous for the residents of the valley and the city,” Abdelwanees Ashoor, a professor of civil engineering, wrote in a study published last November in the Sabha University Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences.

Neglect and corruption are rife in Libya, a country of about 7 million people that lies on a wealth of proven oil and natural gas reserves. As of 2021, the country ranked 172 out of 180 on the transparency index compiled by Transparency International.

The North African nation has been in chaos since 2011, when an Arab Spring uprising, backed by Nato, ousted longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed.

The country has since divided between rival administrations: one in the west backed by an array of lawless armed groups and militias, and the second in the east allied with the self-styled Libyan National Army, which is commanded by powerful General Khalifa Hifter.

The Abu Mansour and Derna dams were built by a Yugoslav construction company in the 1970s above Wadi Derna, which divides the city.

Abu Mansour, 14km (8.6 miles) from the city, was 74 metres (243 feet) high and could hold up to 22.5 million cubic metres of water. The Derna dam is much closer to the city and could hold 1.5 million cubic meters of water.

Destruction in the aftermath of the floods in Derna, Libya. Photo: Reuters

The dams, built from clay, rocks and earth, were made to protect the city from flash floods, which are not uncommon in the area. Water collected behind the dams was used to irrigate crops downstream.

“Both dams had not been maintained for many years, despite repeated floods that struck the city in the past,” said Saleh Emhanna, a geological researcher with the University of Ajdabia in Libya. “They were dilapidated.”

The dams suffered major damage in a strong storm that hit the region in 1986, and more than a decade later a study commissioned by the Libyan government revealed cracks and fissures in their structures, Libya’s general prosecutor, al-Sediq al-Sour, said late Friday.

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At a news conference in the stricken city, al-Sour said prosecutors would investigate the collapse of the two dams, as well as the allocation of maintenance funds.

“I reassure citizens that whoever made mistakes or negligence, prosecutors will certainly take firm measures, file a criminal case against him and send him to trial,” al-Sour said.

A report by a state-run audit agency in 2021 said the two dams hadn’t been maintained despite the allocation of more than US$2 million for that purpose in 2012 and 2013.

Al-Sour, the chief prosecutor, said prosecutors would probe local authorities in Derna as well as previous governments. He appointed investigators from different parts of the country to carry out the investigation.

East Libya’s government suspended Derna’s mayor, Abdel-Moneim al-Gaithi, pending an investigation into the disaster.

dpa and Associated Press