More global support is needed in Libya in the aftermath of devastating floods in the east, an aid official has said.
Local authorities and international charities are overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster.
“The humanitarian situation in Libya is catastrophic,” according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Libya spokesman Bashir Omar.
“The needs are higher than the capabilities of all international organisations working in Libya and the local authorities. Therefore, there should be international support to help get over this catastrophe,” he said.
“We at ICRC in coordination with the (Libyan) Red Crescent are offering what we can, but the needs are far higher than our resources and the resources of the Libyan authorities in general,” he told dpa.
There are growing concerns about a potential cholera outbreak that could affect survivors.
Media reports have said that dozens of children have already fallen ill.
The Health Ministry of Libya’s Tripoli-based government said that the potentially deadly bacteria could spread quickly due to groundwater contamination from dead bodies, decaying animal carcasses, rubbish, and chemicals.
“We urge people not to approach the wells in Derna,” Libyan Health Minister Ibrahim Al-Arabi was quoted as saying, referring to the eastern port city worst hit by the storm.
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said the priority areas for Libya were “shelter, food, key primary medical care because of the worry of cholera, particularly in Libya the worry of lack of clean water.”
Griffiths said the lack of clean water was particularly concerning.
The weekend floods, triggered by a powerful storm, lashed eastern Libya, causing massive damage mainly to Derna, where up to 20,000 people are feared to have perished.
Parts of the city were washed away by flooding.
Late Friday, Libya’s Public Prosecutor Al-Siddiq Al-Sour said he would bring those responsible for the Derna Dam disaster to justice.
He said an investigation had been opened to focus on finding out the causes of the collapse of the Wadi Derna dams and “prosecute the perpetrators of the crime.”
Al-Sour, speaking at a joint press conference with acting Prime Minister Osama Hammad, designated by the House of Representatives, said investigations would focus on the money allocated for the maintenance of the two dams.
He also spoke of reports that said there had been two cracks in the dams that had required maintenance.
Earlier, a member of the military medical convoy in Derna, Dr Hisham al-Malti, said there has been an improvement in the pace of rescue operations Friday for two reasons.
The first is the arrival of professional international teams who have begun work using advanced technologies.
The second is because of what he described as “more organization around areas of rescue operations.”
Al-Malti, who is accompanying the Turkish rescue and recovery team, told dpa, “The army controls the situation now, and is preventing vehicles from entering, except those needed in the area, as entry is now limited to the Red Crescent and international rescue teams.
“The rate of decomposition of the bodies after more than 4 days is very high, and the features of some of them are unclear, and they exude bad and pungent odors that masks could not stop from reaching people’s noses.”
Libyan National Army (LNA) spokesman Major General Ahmed al-Mismari said 900,000 people lived in the affected areas.
He said that the floods were so powerful that they washed away all roads and bridges, and each area had become separated from the other, which is why it is so difficult to reach all those in need of help.
“We have no experience in dealing with natural disasters.
“This is the first disaster of that magnitude to strike Libya since the earthquake in al-Marj city,” he added.
In the past few days, conflicting figures have emerged from the politically divided nation about the death toll from the floods.
The ICRC official was cautious about giving exact numbers.
“The catastrophe is still unfolding. The rescue operations are still ongoing,” Omar said.
“Therefore we cannot predict the final death toll or the numbers of the wounded,” he said.
Earlier Friday, the ICRC said a plane carrying 5,000 body bags departed from Geneva for Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi.
Two rival governments are vying for power in the oil-rich country, which has been plagued by chaos since the overthrow of dictator Moamer Gaddafi in 2011.
One is based in the east and the other in the capital Tripoli.
The Red Cross has said it is evaluating the risk posed by unexploded ordnance and abandoned munition stores in Derna, calling it an “additional challenge” to residents.
Two dams in the mountains above Derna collapsed amid the flooding, triggering allegations of years-long neglect and a lack of maintenance.
In the aftermath, warnings circulated online that a third dam east of Benghazi was at risk of collapse.
But the east-based government issued a reassuring statement saying the dams of al-Qatra and Wadi Jaza were under control.
The government added that water and sanitation officials had inspected both facilities and began to install new pumps to alleviate pressure on Wadi Jaza. (dpa/NAN)