LIBYA

As death toll rises, academics rally to help flood victims

The General Syndicate of University Teaching Staff Members (GSUTSM) in Libya has called on decision-makers to turn to universities as ‘houses of expertise’ after it emerged that a published paper had drawn attention last year to the possibility of floods in the Derna area hit by Storm Daniel this week.

The Mediterranean Storm Daniel that caused devastating floods in the coastal city of Derna on 12 September has thus far claimed the lives of an estimated 6,000 people. Thousands more people are missing after local dams burst, washing away entire neighbourhoods. Derna has been declared a disaster zone.

Referring to a scientific study warning of a potential flood and calling for the immediate maintenance of existing dams in the Derna area, GSUTSM called for greater cooperation between scientists and policy-makers in a statement which said: “We have always called for not neglecting scientific research, and for supporting it, and that the relationship between the researcher, the thinker and the decision-maker is complementary and not antagonistic.

“The decision-maker must refer to institutions of higher education as they are houses of expertise,” it said.

The study accurately predicted that people’s homes could be damaged or destroyed in the event of a flood. Also, a collapse of the dams on the Wadi Derna was flagged as a potential risk.

Radio Al Al-Mukhtar interviewed the author of the study, Dr Abdelwanees Ashoor from the faculty of engineering at Omar Al-Mukhtar University, who said the “catastrophic consequences” of the current floods on houses and buildings as well as human life could have been minimised if the study recommendations had been implemented by the government, “including the education of citizens living in houses in the Derna valley”.

Alarm bell

Ahmed Atia, head of the department of advisory and research in the faculty of medical technology at the University of Tripoli, said the storm was an “alarm bell” for the government in general and the Libyan Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MHESR) specifically.

“They should immediately start to make use of the research, studies and innovative ideas produced by universities and link them with developmental sectors,” Atia said.

“Scientific studies can only help battle things like disease, hunger and poverty if applied properly and not put on the shelf. Otherwise, it is useless and a waste of time and resources,” Atia said.

Libya has been split into two rival administrations since 2014. One is based in Tripoli in the west and known as the Government of National Unity and one is based in Tobruk in the east and known as the House of Representatives, each backed by militias and foreign governments.

MHESR, a department of the Government of National Unity, has called upon the university community to rally to help victims. In a statement on 12 September, it said: “All the staff of the medical faculties in Libyan universities, including professors, teaching assistants and final-year medical students, must respond to the call of duty to alleviate the suffering of our people from the affected eastern cities.

“We are launching a relief campaign to contribute to supporting the medical rooms operating in the affected areas.

“The ministry will provide transportation and accommodation for the volunteer medical team.”

Statement on academic casualties

Among the dead are several academics from local universities.

On 12 September, GSUTSM announced the deaths of Dr Rafiq Hussein Al-Maghribi, dean of the University of Derna’s faculty of science, along with his wife, brother, mother and his children; Dr Khaled Abdullah, vice dean for scientific affairs at the Libyan Academy, Derna branch and a faculty member at the University of Derna and his wife and daughters; and Yahya Al-Missouri, a member of the teaching staff at the University of Tobruk.

Atia of the University of Tripoli told University World News universities in Libya were serving as a starting point for delivery of first aid to affected areas.

The media centre at the University of Tobruk announced on Tuesday that its student activities department at the faculty of pharmacy had launched a donation campaign for affected people in the city of Derna.

“Those wishing to donate (medicines, blankets, food or a sum of money), whether from students of the complex, the university, or outside it should come to the faculty,” it said.

Omar Al-Mukhtar University, and the University of Zaytouna Teaching Staff syndicate also launched a call for donations, asking faculty members to donate “whatever they can to help people affected by the floods”.

Closure of university

The media centre of Omar Al-Mukhtar University issued a statement saying: “From the standpoint of social, humanitarian and ethical responsibility, the university presidency declares the days from 12 to 14 September as official holidays for all educational and administrative facilities at the university, provided that the final exams in the faculties are moved to other days that will be announced at a later time.”

The International Union of Universities in Turkey offered its condolences to the victims of the storm, calling upon its members in Libya and outside it to provide urgent assistance to affected people.

Cairo University and Ain Shams University have also sympathised with victims of the storm.