Floods in Libya – An Ecological Catastrophe on Top of A Brutal History

More than 11,000 people have been killed in floods caused by Storm Daniel in Libya. That is only an estimate, and there are fears that as many as 20,000 people might be dead. The death toll is the result of the bursting of two major dams near the city of Derna, combined with extreme rains that pummeled Libya with a year’s rainfall in 24 hours.

This extreme disaster was certainly caused by the climate crisis, and is only one of many exceptional weather events that have caused severe destruction recently. The problem is made so much worse by the political situation in Libya. The country has been plunged into political turmoil since the Arab Spring in 2011, and for the last six years a violent civil war has raged.

Libya, an oil-rich country located in North Africa, had been ruled since 1969 by the nationalist regime of Muammar Gaddafi, until he was killed in 2011. The Gaddafi regime faced opposition from Western powers, including the United States, due to its seizure of oil assets that had been exploited by the big oil companies. The Arab Spring provided the opportunity for the U.S. and Europe to finally eliminate the Gaddafi regime. In Libya, the NATO military alliance flew 7,000 bombing runs against the Gaddafi regime, while an uprising within the country finished off the regime. Libya’s uprising, like the other Arab Spring uprisings, began with a great deal of hope. What followed, however, was a descent into chaos. Tribal factions have seized territory and oil reserves, and compete for control of the country, while profiteering and selling the resources to the highest bidder. It’s no surprise, then, that the country’s infrastructure, including the dams that burst, has not been maintained.

This disaster isn’t only environmental. It is also social and economic, due to the war and economic exploitation Libya has endured. Due to the civil war, rescuers not only have to search through debris, they have to avoid landmines. The disaster in Libya is a symptom of the damage caused by the system of capitalism, with its wars and political manipulations, its exploitation of the natural environment, and the climate disruption we now face as a major consequence. The disaster in Libya is far from natural; it is a condemnation of the system and demands that we take action to change it.