Thursday, September 14, 2023

UN: Avoidable Flood Casualties in Libya Could Have Been Prevented


Lack of Early Warning Systems Contributed to High Death Toll in Libya Flood Disaster

The recent devastating flood disaster in Libya could have been significantly mitigated if early warning and emergency management systems had been functioning properly, according to the United Nations. The flash flood, which hit eastern Libya over the weekend, resulted in the deaths of at least 5,000 people, with thousands more missing and feared dead.

Petteri Taalas, head of the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO), emphasized the importance of coordination and effective early warning systems in preventing such disasters. He stated that if the systems had been in place and functioning well, warnings could have been issued, and emergency management forces would have been able to carry out evacuations, thereby avoiding most of the human casualties.

One of the major contributors to the size of the disaster was the lack of weather forecasting and dissemination of early warnings. The ongoing internal conflict in Libya has severely damaged the country’s meteorological observing network and IT systems. As a result, the necessary infrastructure for accurate weather forecasting and timely dissemination of warnings was not available.

Taalas highlighted that the absence of proper early warning systems meant that no evacuation took place when the flooding events occurred. If evacuations had been carried out, the human toll would have been significantly lower. While economic losses cannot be fully avoided in such situations, having proper services in place could have minimized those losses.

The National Meteorological Center (NMC) in Libya did issue early warnings for the extreme weather conditions 72 hours in advance and notified governmental authorities via email, urging them to take preventative measures. However, it is unclear whether these warnings were effectively disseminated and acted upon.

The WMO noted that there used to be close cooperation between meteorological services and disaster management throughout Libya. However, due to the prolonged conflict, this collaboration has deteriorated, leading to a breakdown in communication and coordination.

This disaster serves as a stark reminder of the importance of investing in early warning systems and emergency management capabilities. Timely and accurate weather forecasts, coupled with effective dissemination of warnings, can save countless lives and minimize the impact of natural disasters.

In light of this tragedy, it is crucial for the Libyan government and international organizations to prioritize the restoration and strengthening of the country’s meteorological observing network and IT systems. This will enable the timely detection and prediction of extreme weather events, allowing for early warnings to be issued and appropriate actions to be taken.

Furthermore, there is a need for improved coordination between meteorological services and disaster management agencies. Close collaboration and information sharing are essential to ensure that warnings reach the relevant authorities and that appropriate measures are implemented to protect vulnerable populations.

Investing in early warning systems and emergency management capabilities is not only a matter of saving lives but also of reducing economic losses. By having the necessary infrastructure and services in place, countries can minimize the impact of natural disasters on critical infrastructure, agriculture, and other sectors of the economy.

The tragic flood disaster in Libya should serve as a wake-up call for governments worldwide to prioritize disaster preparedness and invest in robust early warning systems. As climate change continues to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, it is crucial that we take proactive measures to protect communities and save lives.

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