“The state wasn’t interested,” said an engineer who published a paper on why Derna’s dams, after decades of postponed repairs, might fail under the stress of a powerful storm.
Derna, Libya, has been devastated by flooding from storms this week, which washed swaths of the city into the sea. Credit... Muhammad J. Elalwany/Associated Press
Torrential rains were not new. Decade after decade, they had pounded the area, washing away the soil that helped soak up water as it ran down from the dry hills above town.
Climate change had also changed the land, making it drier, harder and increasingly shorn of vegetation, less able to absorb the water before it pooled up dangerously behind the dams.
Then, there were the decades of neglect by officials — who knew the dams needed repairs — in a country so torn by years of civil war that it still has two opposing governments: one in the west and another in the east, where Derna lies.
The residents of Derna are “extremely vulnerable to flood risk,” wrote Abdelwanees Ashoor, a hydraulic engineer at Omar Al-Mukhtar University in Libya, in a paper he published in 2022.