Libyan flood catastrophe a ‘wake-up call for the world’

Libyan flood catastrophe a ‘wake-up call for the world’
25 September 2023

By the IFRC

(This story is based on an IFRC press release issued in New York and Geneva last week. It has been edited here for length.)

What happened this month in Derna, Libya should be a “wake-up call for the world” on the increasing risk of catastrophic floods in a world affected by climate change, IFRC Secretary General Jagan Chapagain said last week.

He was speaking after a new report from World Weather Attribution saying climate change made the disaster in Libya significantly more likely.  

Rapid analysis by WWA – a group of scientists supported by the IFRC – analysed climate data and computer model simulations to compare the climate as it is today, after about 1.2°C of global warming, with the climate of the past.

The scientists found that human caused climate change has made heavy rainfall in north-eastern Libya up to 50 times more likely than it would have been in a world not experiencing human-caused climate change. They also found the rain was up to 50 per cent more intense there than it would have been in a world before climate change

‘…strengthened emergency management, impact-based forecasts and warning, infrastructure designed for the future climate’

Interim Climate Centre Director Julie Arrighi said: “This devastating disaster shows how climate change-fuelled extreme weather events are combining with human factors to create even bigger impacts, as more people, assets and infrastructure are exposed and vulnerable to flood risks.

“However, there are practical solutions that can help us prevent these disasters from becoming routine such as strengthened emergency management, improved impact-based forecasts and warning systems, and infrastructure that is designed for the future climate.”

Rainfall alone did not make the Derna disaster inevitable. Enhanced preparedness, less construction in flood-prone regions and better infrastructure management of dams would have reduced the overall impact of Storm Daniel.

Nonetheless, climate change was a significant factor in causing and exacerbating the extreme-weather event.   

Mr Chapagain said: “The disaster in Derna is yet another example of what climate change is already doing to our weather. Obviously multiple factors in Libya turned Storm Daniel into a human catastrophe; it wasn’t climate change alone. But climate change did make the storm much more extreme and much more intense and that resulted in the loss of thousands of lives.

“That should be a wake-up call for the world to fulfill the commitment on reducing emissions, to ensure climate adaptation funding and tackle the issues of loss and damage.”

Libyan Red Crescent volunteers comfort a young survivor of the Derna flood disaster, made both more likely and more intense by climate change. (Photo: Libyan Red Crescent via IFRC)