Libya, a country plagued by conflict and instability, has been forced to postpone a crucial reconstruction conference for the city of Derna. The conference, scheduled for 10 October, has been delayed until November due to concerns over the allocation of funds and a lack of coordination between eastern and western Libya.
Derna, a city in eastern Libya, suffered severe damage on 10 September when two dams above the town burst due to heavy flooding. The catastrophe resulted in the loss of more than 10,000 lives, although an accurate death toll is yet to be determined. The city has been left devastated, with homes destroyed, infrastructure in ruins, and countless families displaced.
The postponement of the reconstruction conference was officially attributed to the need for companies to have sufficient time to prepare effective studies and projects that would contribute to the rebuilding process. However, this decision is not without controversy. The US ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland, has voiced concerns over the lack of inclusivity and transparency in the reconstruction process. He emphasised the importance of a national effort, rather than a unilateral initiative conducted solely by the eastern-based government.
Norland’s statement reflects a broader sentiment among the international community and Libyan citizens alike. As attention turns towards reconstruction, there is a growing need for accountability in the use of public funds and assurance that assistance reaches those most in need. Transparency and inclusivity are vital not only to rebuilding Derna but also to restoring trust among the Libyan people.
The postponement of the reconstruction conference provides an opportunity for the eastern-based government to reassess its approach and collaborate with the western administration to ensure a comprehensive and inclusive effort. This is particularly crucial considering that Libya currently has two rival administrations in power, further complicating the already challenging task of reconstruction.
Rebuilding Derna will require a coordinated and sustained effort. It is not just about physical reconstruction but also about restoring people’s lives and livelihoods. The city’s residents have endured immense loss and trauma, and their voices must be heard throughout the rebuilding process.
The international community is ready to offer financial and technical assistance to support this endeavour. It is crucial for the Libyans to establish unified structures that bring together authorities from across the country. These structures will facilitate agreement on priority expenditures and ensure efficient and proper allocation of funds. We encourage Libyan authorities to swiftly form these unified structures, which should represent the best interests of the Libyan people instead of launching separate efforts.
A reconstruction conference in Benghazi planned for October 10th would be more effective if conducted jointly and inclusively in coordination with institutions managing resources and funding. This approach will take into account the needs and aspirations of the Libyan people.
Recently, European powers, in collaboration with the UN special mission for Libya, called for an independent mechanism to oversee reconstruction efforts in the eastern region. The current political and institutional divide, along with a lack of accountability for national resources and funds, cannot continue.
There are hopes among diplomats that the outrage caused by the dam catastrophe can push Libyan politicians towards agreeing on repeatedly postponed national elections.
European governments have privately emphasised that levels of donation will depend on clearer stewardship of funds by politicians in Libya’s east. In addition, there are calls from within Libya for an international element to be included in the inquiry into the causes of the disaster due to widespread distrust in the ongoing internal investigation.
The public prosecutor’s office has taken provisional action by arresting 12 officials in connection with the disaster. These individuals, who are primarily local officials, include the former head of the water resources authority and the mayor of Derna. The investigation is focused on determining what happened to the allocated funds for dam reconstruction and why the contracted work with a Turkish firm was not pursued.
In Libya, a country rich in oil resources, corruption is widespread, especially in construction contracts. According to the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), the country’s oil revenues reached 59.8 billion Libyan dinars ($12.33 billion) in the first eight months of 2023.
Since a demonstration demanding greater accountability for the disaster, Derna has experienced various restrictions such as checkpoints being implemented, expulsion of international news organisations, and arrests of dissidents.
Recently, the eastern authorities announced the establishment of a fund for Derna’s reconstruction as well as other affected areas. However, they did not disclose how this fund would be financed. The House of Representatives (HoR) has already allocated 10 million dinars ($2 million) towards reconstruction efforts.
Furthermore, cheques have been distributed to mayors of affected towns by the eastern administration as part of their compensation initiative. However, it remains essential that funds delivered to Libya uphold a high level of accountability according to UN envoy Abdoulaye Bathily during discussions with European Commission representatives.
Humanitarian workers emphasise that immediate psychological counselling is crucial for residents who have experienced trauma due to these devastating floods.