Libya Flood, A "Natural" Disaster Made Of Climate Change And Colonialism
The devastating flood in Libya is the result of the climate crisis, worsened by the country's poor infrastructure, the legacy of European colonialism. These disasters will only become more frequent.
If we still haven't come to terms with the climate crisis and the criminal irresponsibility of the Western world, we need look no further than the harrowing images coming from Libya, a nation devastated by the Mediterranean Storm Daniel.
The death toll is still unknown, with numbers rising everyday. It seems possible that the death toll will surpass 20,000, eclipsing Morocco's earthquake (which, somehow, has better captured the public's attention).
The damage is notable. In the eastern coastal city of Derna, witnesses describe water as much as three meters high. Yet these extreme weather conditions, stemming from an increasingly severe climate crisis, are only heightened by humanity's reckless disregard for the earth.
We are witnessing a natural disaster born of human action and inaction, both in terms of infrastructural carelessness and, in the bigger picture, because of climate change – a force of destruction we relentlessly feed by burning fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow.
The victims of Libya are victims of their own oil production (of which it's doubtful they derived any benefit), and the unquenchable consumption of the rest of the world — us Westerners in particular.
In Derna, 420 mm of rainfall was recorded within a single day, which is far more than what the region normally sees in a whole year. Combine this with winds that reached almost 200 km/h (124 mp), and you can understand the devastation of a Mediterranean cyclone which has become subtropical, known as a Medicane.
It is all generated by exceptionally warm sea temperatures. It's a similar phenomena to what occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, except that the Mediterranean is much smaller – it's all a matter of scale.
The frequency of these meteorological events has increased from one every five years to one every year and a half. The Mediterranean is quickly becoming one of the most climatically vulnerable regions on the planet.
Italian colonists in Libya, 1938
A legacy of imperialism
These climatic conditions become catastrophic when they hit regions with poor infrastructure and worse city planning, which have sprawled recklessly with no concern for future risks. This is what happened in Derna after it was conquered in 1911 by the Italians, who immediately began expanding it at furious speed.
Those who will bear the brunt of the climate crisis will be the poor, the less equipped.
The entire territory along the Wadi Derna was occupied, right up to the coastal plain. Riverbeds were canalized, with embankments derived from buildings themselves and, for safety, two dams were constructed. This was enough to protect against flooding, which was infrequent.
Both of these dams burst when Storm Daniel hit, demonstrating that in the case of flash flooding, dams can worsen the situation instead of preventing it. The water then descended, devouring homes and people on its way, swelling uncontrollably as its path became obstructed by the city sprawl.
Storm Daniel narrowly missed southeastern Italy, but it's easy to imagine that tomorrow, it will be us facing the monstrous path of other Medicane storms. Our infrastructure is not so much better than Libya's, but those who will bear the brunt of the climate crisis will be the poor, the less equipped.
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