Morocco: Disasters in Morocco and Libya

Flood damage in Derna, Libya.
21 September 2023

The catastrophe in Morocco and Libya provides lessons for Nigeria

Within a period of 48 hours, two horrendous disasters occurred in two North African countries - Morocco and Libya - claiming thousands of lives and causing incalculable economic loss. It started in Morocco on 8th September when an earthquake of magnitude 6.8 shook the country's High Atlas Mountains, 71 kilometres from Marrakesh. Many remote villages and towns in the neighbourhood were destroyed, killing many inhabitants, and in some cases wiping off members of the same family. At the end, no fewer than 3,000 deaths were recorded with many more injured from massive boulders that smashed into them. In Morocco today, the air is reportedly filled with the stench of decomposing bodies because of the difficult and inaccessible terrain that has made rescue efforts almost impossible.

Unfortunately, at a time the African continent and the rest of the world were mourning the untold loss in Morocco, 'Storm Daniel' made landfall in Libya, causing devastating flash floods worsened by the burst of two dams. With that, large volumes of water at very high speed swept through the coastal North-eastern city of Derna, washing humans, houses, vehicles and everything on its path into the Mediterranean Sea. The death toll has exceeded 11,000 with about the same number yet to be accounted for. Meanwhile, decomposing bodies are still washing up the shores of the Mediterranean Sea at Derna.

Unlike the earthquake in Morocco, the heavy rainfall caused by Storm Daniel is an extreme weather event associated with climate change. In Libya, vulnerable populations are worst hit because of the ongoing conflict between the Western and Eastern regions that has made governance and maintenance of infrastructure, such as the dams, difficult. "The convergence of climate-related disasters, protracted crisis, and economic instability in Libya creates a lethal cocktail that leaves people and communities grappling with minimal preparedness, inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to essential services. This triple burden of challenges makes it extraordinarily difficult for them to cope and recover," the International Rescue Committee (IRC) stated during the week.

According to experts, the absence of early warning systems exacerbated the death toll in Morocco and Libya. This same problem is in most of the developing world that are plagued with corruption-driven insensitivity, which is being tendered as responsible for the burst dams in Libya. People saw the fault lines on the walls of the dams before the rains and notified the government which did nothing about it until the catastrophe that has now exposed their incompetence. "Thousands of people who have died in Libya's devastating floods could have been saved had early warning and emergency management systems functioned properly," according to a statement by the United Nations. The UN's World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) claims that most of the human casualties could have been avoided with better coordination by the authorities. Besides, if there had been a properly functioning meteorological service in Libya, they could have issued the warnings and the emergency management forces would have been able to evacuate the people.

While we commiserate with the people of Morocco and Libya and urge the federal government to lend hands of support, we must also note that the two dams in Derna were built in the 1970's, and have not been maintained in 20 years, according to experts. Most dams in Nigeria are in the category of Derna's and the devastation that occurred in Libya should be a lesson for our country. The Director-General of Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NiHSA), Clement Nze, recently observed some serious gaps in the nation's early warning system that the federal government must address urgently. As conventional wisdom teaches, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

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