At least 8% of the population of Libya’s eastern Derna city was killed or went missing and a quarter of the city’s neighborhoods was wiped off the map as the disastrous floods ravaged the country.
The floods caused by Storm Daniel are unprecedented in the Maghreb region, the Arab world, or even globally in the 21st century.
At least 6,000 people were killed and thousands of others remain missing due to the weekend floods in eastern Libya, according to latest official numbers.
Torrential rains swept several regions, most notably the cities of Derna, Benghazi, Al-Bayda, Al-Marj, and Soussa.
Worse than flooding in Algeria
The Bab El Oued deadly floods in Algeria’s capital Algiers killed about 800 people in 2001 in a city with an estimated population of about 4 million.
The Bab El Oued floods are described as the largest tragedy in the Maghreb region. However, they are hardly comparable to the scale of the Derna disaster.
Worst disaster in 21st century
In 2013, India’s northern Uttarakhand state was struck by a flood that killed 5,700 people.
The population of Uttarakhand was above 10 million people at that time, 50 times the population of Derna.
Floods in Pakistan in 2022 left 1,128 people dead, great destruction to the infrastructure and economy of the country.
The same happened in 2010 in Pakistan, where 1,600 people were killed in devastating floods.
The Yangtze flood in China in 1931 has left between 2 to 4 million dead due to famine and diseases that spread in the aftermath of the flood.
Worst in Derna’s history
Derna is geographically surrounded by the hills of the Green Mountain and the Mediterranean Sea, and is divided by the Derna valley.
The port city witnessed a violent flood in 1941 during World War II, when it was under the control of German forces.
There were no reports of any human losses except for German tanks swept into the sea.
In 1959, Derna witnessed another violent flooding, which left hundreds dead and wounded, according to Faraj Daoud al-Darnawi, a Libyan historian.
In 1961, Derna authorities built a medium-sized aggregate dam with a height of 40 meters (131 feet) to contain flood waters. The dam contributed to protecting the city from floods in 1968 and 1969.
During the ruling of Muammar Gaddafi (1969-2011), the dam was maintained in 1977, re-maintained in 1986, and another dam was built on the valley to enhance the city’s guard against floods.
In 2011, the city witnessed another flood, but the two dams protected the city and mitigated the impact of the torrents.
After the fall of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Derna faced political isolation since it was controlled by several extremist groups.
The terrorist organization Deash/ISIS attempted to seize control of the city between 2014 and 2015, but it was countered by an alliance of armed groups in the city, which was able to defeat the terrorist organization.
The city was further isolated when East Libya-based strongman Khalifa Haftar’s forces imposed a siege on Derna since 2016, and were able to overthrow the city in 2018.