Floods: Officials arrested over alleged mismanagement of dams

The office of the Libyan attorney general (AG) has ordered the arrest of a group of officials accused of neglecting to take precautions against disasters following the devastating floods in the city of Derna after two dams on the Wadi Derna collapsed on 12 September 2023. The officials were responsible for managing the country’s dam facilities.

The AG also ordered an investigation “into the rest of those responsible for the Derna flood incident and others who mismanaged the reconstruction project or obtained illegal benefits as a result of this misuse”, according to a statement issued on 25 September 2023. The officials who were arrested are in pre-trial detention.

Mediterranean storm Daniel, that caused devastating floods in the coastal city of Derna, claimed almost 4,000 lives, while approximately 10,000 people are still missing, the UN humanitarian information service ReliefWeb reported. The number of people who have been internally displaced is estimated at 43,059.

Eleven faculty and staff members and one post-graduate student at three universities in Derna are among the dead. Dr Rafiq Hussein Al-Maghribi, dean of the University of Derna’s faculty of science, died 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, also succumbed.

The Omar Al-Mukhtar University announced on Facebook that Abdul Hamid Ramadan Amgunen, a graduate student in the department of history, and his entire family became martyrs after they died in the flood that hit Darna city.

In a study in 2022, a group of researchers flagged a collapse of the dams on the Wadi Derna as a potential risk in the event of a flood. The study called for the immediate maintenance of existing dams in the Derna area and criticised the government for neglecting its recommendations.

Derna mayor also detained

The officials are accused of “mismanaging the administrative and financial tasks assigned to them, the contribution of their mistakes to a catastrophic loss of flood victims, [and] their neglect of taking precautions against disasters”, according to the AG’s statement. “They caused economic losses to the country.”

The accused include the former head of the water resources authority, the current and former director of dam administration, the head of the department of dam projects implementation and maintenance, the head of the dams department in the eastern region, the head of the water resources office in Derna, and the mayor of the Derna municipality.

“The mayor of Derna municipality … abused the authority of his position. And his deviation from the mandate of managing the funds allocated for the reconstruction and development of the city of Derna,” the statement reads.

Education ministry acts

Dr Ali Ahmed Salem, director of the communication and information office of the Libyan Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, told Libya Al Rasmia TV on 22 September 2023 that the ministry formed an emergency committee to provide support to those in the affected areas.

Instructions were also issued to all Libyan universities to receive and host students and faculty members from these areas. Students should be allowed to complete their studies at any Libyan university after submitting a written request to the ministry. In response, Professor Issam Abu Khudair, president of Zawia University, committed to hosting faculty and undergraduate students from the eastern regions.

Work teams specialising in psychological and social support will offer support under the supervision of the Centre for Psychological and Educational Research in Derna.

Confronting the disaster

In the meantime, the faculty of engineering at the University of Benghazi has compiled recommendations for measures that need to be taken to deal with the aftermath of the disaster and help prevent a recurrence.

“(O)n the basis of our national humanitarian and societal responsibility and our belief in the role of science in preventing disasters … or reducing their effects, we, as faculty members … place these recommendations in the hands of officials … In doing so, we place ourselves at the disposal of the competent authorities to help them implement these recommendations,” according to the document.

With reference to research and the scientific angle, the document called for a focus on the role of experts and university professors in preparing studies and research related to dams and the dangers, as well as organising scientific seminars and workshops to discuss disasters and crises that threaten the Libyan state. A team to coordinate national research priorities in the short and long term should also be formed.

A scientific symposium was held at the faculty of science at the University of Tripoli on 26 September under the theme ‘The role of faculties of science in scientific studies and awareness of natural disasters’.

On 24 September, Omar Al-Mukhtar University also announced the launch of a project to build and develop a multipurpose digital base map that will assist in humanitarian aid and data visualisation to enable many agencies to complete the work of inventorying and evaluating the damages resulting from floods.