The enormity of the destruction in Derna, Libya and the surrounding region is immense. In a city of 100,000, 15-20% of the population could be dead or missing. Another 30,000 are thought to be displaced.
Storm Daniel struck overnight on 11 September, and it took the better part of two days for aid to start trickling in given the road blockages and difficulty navigating the still water and mud-covered city.
Several dozen rescuers themselves are thought to be lost. Other stranded families were saved due to the city’s geography, which collapsed the bridges connecting the eastern and western parts of the city.
Two upcoming battles will determine the future of Derna and the broader political future of Libya: the race for recovery and the battle of narratives over who is responsible – and thus who can fix Derna and the country more generally.
The race for recovery
The needs of the city remain immense. The one local hospital was quickly overwhelmed and partly flooded. It put an urgent call for body bags and other protective equipment to prevent the spread of disease while doing what was possible to identify bodies and provide them with dignified burials.
Local NGOs, especially the Libyan Red Crescent have been on the scene throughout as well as elements of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces, the forces loyal to the eastern warlord, Khalifa Haftar. Other Libyan groups have rushed in resources, or at least, made pledges.
Government of National Unity (GNU) Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh immediately allocated 2bn dinars in emergency funding for Derna, but what this money will be used for remains to be seen. The National Oil Corporation dispatched medical personnel and a ship carrying emergency equipment. And the National Electric Company has already restored power to parts of the city.
Regionally, it is no coincidence that Turkey, Egypt, and Italy were the first to deploy aid and rescue specialists. These three countries have the greatest national security interests in Libya.
Egypt and Turkey, in particular, have each supported the eastern and western Libyan rivals and have provided them with political and security assistance since the 2020 ceasefire went into effect.
On its part, Egypt sent a military delegation headed by military Chief of Staff Osama Askar to coordinate relief. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was on hand to oversee a phalanx of trucks and heavy machinery headed to Libya.
Egypt also deployed a hospital ship to supplement the limited medical services in Derna and surrounding areas. These efforts demonstrate Egypt’s prioritisation of eastern Libya for its national security and the fact they want to ensure their influence in case of any political disruption in the aftermath of the crisis.
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