Libya: Global warming made Derna floods 'more likely', study finds

Libya: Global warming made Derna floods 'more likely', study finds
2 min read
21 September, 2023
A report by World Weather Attribution said that global warming had turned 'extreme weather into a humanitarian disaster'.
Floods caused by Storm Daniel have devastated the city of Derna, killing thousands of people and damaging infrastructure [Getty]

Global warming led to heavier rainfall and intensified floods which devastated the eastern Libyan city of Derna earlier this month, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The report, released by World Weather Attribution, said that warmer temperatures – which are mostly caused by carbon pollution – made rainfall in Libya 50 times more likely, turning "extreme weather into a humanitarian disaster."

Storm Daniel hit the North African country on 10 September, devastating infrastructure and killing at least 3,300 people, according to official figures. Thousands more remain missing with the death toll likely to increase dramatically.

The amount of rain that fell in Libya was "far outside that of previously recorded events”, the World Weather Attribution report said. Up to 50 percent more rain fell than it would have in a world where people had not changed the climate, it stressed.

Global temperatures have risen by 1.2C since the second half of the 19th century. Meanwhile, hotter air can hold more water vapour, thus a downpour can release more rain. 

The storm also killed people in Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece, which also witnessed unprecedented levels of rainfall in early September. Greece is also reeling from a second storm – Cyclone Ianos  - which hit earlier this week and killed at least four people. 

The study also emphasised that other human factors such as deforestation, building homes on floodplains and a lack of dam maintenance had contributed to the devastation in Libya.

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Ecologist Enrique Doblas told The Guardian: "This reinforces our understanding that while climate change can be seen as the underlying cause of recent catastrophes, its impacts are exacerbated by landscape management that lacks adequate preventive measures". 

In Derna, the city’s two ageing dams which collapsed in the aftermath of the disaster, greatly exacerbating the devastation. The Mansour and Belad dams released an estimated 30 million cubic meters of water, causing the death and displacement of thousands.

Libyan aviation minister Hisham Chkiouat said that "almost a quarter of the city had disappeared".

The dams, built between 1973 and 1977, were not built with heavy rainfall in mind, experts said. Cracks in the dams began to show as far back as the 1980s with political instability in Libya largely blamed for their negligence over the past decade.