Storm Daniel has taken an extraordinary toll on Libya, where the estimated death toll has passed 11,000 and another 20,000 are believed to be missing.
The storm made landfall Sunday evening, with heavy rainfall causing flash flooding. The storm dropped 16 inches of rain in 24 hours, a new record for the civil war-torn North African nation, which usually receives just a tiny fraction of that all month.
Two dams on the Wadi Derna River burst, leading to massive floods in the coastal city of Derna. At least 30,000 have been displaced.
The “sea is constantly dumping dozens of bodies,” Hichem Abu Chkiouat, an official in the administration that runs eastern Libya told the Guardian.
What made it so bad
The dams held back millions of cubic meters of water, weighing millions of tons.
“Combine that weight with moving downhill, and it can produce enormous power,” BBC News reported. “Witnesses have said that the waters were nearly three metres [9.8 feet] in places.”
“It is estimated that six inches (20cm) of fast moving flood-water is enough to knock someone off their feet, and 2ft (60cm) is enough to float a car. So it is no surprise that whole buildings were taken out in the floods.”
Warmer air holds more moisture and causes more evaporation, so climate change is making the water cycle more extreme and increasing the intensity of rain storms, scientists say. Studies have also shown that hurricanes are made stronger by warmer sea water that results from climate change.
The Associated Press reported that the extreme rain from Storm Daniel “is the latest extreme weather event to carry some of the hallmarks of climate change, scientists say. Daniel… drew enormous energy from extremely warm sea water. And a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor that can fall as rain, experts said.”
Yahoo News asked Ricardo Pires, a spokesperson for UNICEF, the United Nations’ humanitarian aid agency three questions about what caused the situation in Libya and how such tragedies can be prevented in the future.
1. How and why did Hurricane Daniel cause such devastating destruction in Libya?
On Monday, Storm Daniel unfurled across eastern Libya, affecting most of the region but especially the areas of Al Bayda, Al Marj and Derna. It destroyed buildings, including schools and hospitals, and burst two crucial dams, adding even more water to already flooded streets.
We know about 664,000 people, including almost 300,000 children, live in the region, and many are now struggling to stay safe, find family members or care for their children.
The Mediterranean storm caused such devastation because it hit areas where already vulnerable communities live, following over a decade of conflict. For the children and families of Libya, it is yet another catastrophe.
2. Is being hit with a hurricane of this magnitude unusual for Libya? Is it related to climate change?
Storm Daniel caused more than 400mm — or 16 inches — of rain in just 24 hours, according to the World Meteorological Organization. That is significantly higher than the level of rainfall the region normally collects at this time of year and Libya's National Meteorological Centre said it was a new rainfall record.
While the storm carries all the hallmarks of climate change, it’s too soon to definitively link the two. But it’s safe to say, as the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has, that as the planet warms we can expect to see more intense storms, which lead to more severe flooding. The disaster in Libya is one of a series of extreme flooding events which have caused death and destruction around the world in recent months, including in Greece, Brazil and Hong Kong.
3. How can countries be better prepared for natural disasters such as this?
With extreme weather events increasing in frequency and intensity, governments must invest in better warning systems and infrastructure to protect vulnerable populations with incredible urgency.
It is essential that we safeguard the health, safety, learning and opportunities of every child by adapting the critical social services they rely on such as water and sanitation, health, education, nutrition, social protection and child protection services and infrastructure so they are resilient to the impacts of disasters. Unfortunately, adaptation and resilience building remains critically underfunded and under-resourced. It’s high time we increase the funds allocated towards this important work and prioritize children as we allocate them.
The Early Warnings for All campaign launched by Guterres is also essential. Early warnings and adaptation save lives. Further delay means death.