Geneva — Libya's divisions have exacerbated the brutal impact of this week's lethal floods, claiming thousands of lives in a disaster-hit North Africa also rocked by last week's deadly earthquake in Morocco.
The United Nations Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said Thursday, "The scale of the flood disaster in Libya is shocking and heartbreaking.
"Entire neighbourhoods have been wiped off the map. Whole families, taken by surprise, were swept away in the deluge of water. Thousands have died, tens of thousands are now homeless, and many more remain unaccounted for."
On Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, called on all Libyan political actors to overcome political deadlocks and divisions and collectively ensure relief access.
"This is a time for unity of purpose: all those affected must receive support, without regard for any affiliations," said Türk.
"It is important that particular care is taken to ensure protection of groups in vulnerable situations – who are rendered even more at risk in the aftermath of such a disaster."
Deadly Storm Daniel
Turk said Storm Daniel, believed to be the deadliest and costliest Mediterranean tropical-like cyclone so far recorded, "is yet another lethal reminder of the catastrophic impact that a changing climate can have on our world."
The mayor of the eastern port city of Derna, Abdel Moneim Al-Ghaithi, told Sky News Arabia on Wednesday that the death toll could ultimately exceed 20,000.
Since 2011, when Moammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed, chaos and conflict have afflicted Libya, which is effectively split into two separately governed areas.
Khalifa Hifter heads a coalition of factions and irregular fighters known as the Libyan National Army, or LNA, in the east, where the country's oil reserves are located. In the west the U.N.-supported Government of National Accord, or GNA, is in power in the capital, Tripoli.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Thursday that medicines, food, body bags, first aid kits and household items will be distributed to communities in Libya to assist thousands of needy families.
Responding to the flood emergency, African Development Bank Group president Dr Akinwumi Adesina said Libya had already been facing many challenges: "Sadly, the escalating number of deaths, reportedly now close to 5,300, and 10,000 missing persons—due to the collapse of upstream dams—emphasises the need for urgent reconstruction to protect lives and secure livelihoods," he added.
Red Cross teams
Meanwhile, additional ICRC teams are being sent to the region to distribute humanitarian assistance. The ICRC is also strengthening its forensics team in Benghazi by distributing 6,000 body bags to help authorities and the Libyan Red Crescent Society ensure dignified treatment of the dead.
Yann Fridez, the head of ICRC's Libya delegation, has a team in Derna to support families with micro-economic activities.
"This disaster was violent and brutal," he said. " A wave seven metres high wiped out buildings and washed infrastructure into the sea. Family members are missing, dead bodies are washing back up on shore, and homes are destroyed. The city faces immense emotional trauma," he added.