Functioning weather service may have prevented Libya flood casualties: WMO

World Meteorological Organization boss says many people could have been saved if divided country had a normally operating meteorological service.

Libya Flooding
People look for survivors in the hard-hit city of Derna, in eastern Libya [Yousef Murad/AP]

Many of the casualties from the devastating floods in Libya this week could have been avoided if the divided country had a functional weather service able to issue warnings, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Thursday, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said Libya’s main challenge in managing the aftermath of the floods that have killed thousands and displaced tens of thousands was that the governing was “not functioning normally”.

“If they would have been a normally operating meteorological service, they could have issued a warning,” he said.

“The emergency management authorities would have been able to carry out evacuation of the people. And we could have avoided most of the human casualties,” Taalas added.

The WMO had previously been in touch with Libyan authorities to fix the meteorological system, but security threats in the country prevented that from ever happening, the WMO official said.

“Since the security situation in the country is so difficult, it’s difficult to go there and improve the situation,” he said.

Rescue and recovery operations are complicated by political fractures in Libya, which has been at war on and off with no strong central government since a NATO-backed uprising toppled leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Two rival governments have operated in the years that followed – the internationally recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) in Tripoli in the west, and another that operates in the east.

As the misery from the floods piles on, there are questions about whether the high number of casualties could have been avoided.

In a video posted on Facebook by the security directorate of Derna, Libya’s hardest-hit city, a local security official can be heard imposing a curfew, telling people to stay at home as news emerged of Storm Daniel.

The official said in the video that weathering the storm from home would be the safest option.

As the storm hit, however, and the city’s mismanaged and undermaintained dams burst, the ensuing floods engulfed people’s homes as many were fast asleep.

With thousands impacted, a global effort to assist Libya’s countless victims gathered pace on Thursday, with several countries assisting in a number of ways from medically to militarily.

Libya’s rival administrations are also cooperating to aid the flood victims, with a ministerial delegation from Tripoli assessing the damage on Thursday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies