Tripoli, Libya, 22 September 2023 – The World Health Organization (WHO) is taking swift action to help affected communities following the catastrophic floods that have had a devastating impact on Libya’s eastern coast. WHO supports urgent efforts to restore access to health care and control the spread of infectious diseases, especially among the tens of thousands of people who have been displaced and are now living in shelters.
“The magnitude of this disaster is staggering,” said Dr. Ahmed Zouiten, WHO representative in Libya. “The need for swift and united action cannot be overstated. We are working closely with our partners, national authorities and the international community to deliver vital assistance, save lives and restore essential healthcare services during this deeply challenging time.”
A UN interagency team assessed the affected areas and identified four priorities: providing clean water, preventing disease outbreaks, restoring primary health care services, and providing mental health and psychosocial support for survivors.
Devastating impact and risks to public health
Since the disaster on 10 September 2023, 4,014 people have been reported killed and more than 8,500 are still missing. Search and rescue teams managed to dig out 452 survivors from the rubble of the collapsed buildings. Between 30,000 and 35,000 flood-displaced people are currently living in overcrowded camps and settlements in Derna Governorate, with limited access to clean water and sanitation.
Most of the health risks to flood survivors come from the presence of contaminated water and poor sanitation and hygiene facilities. Risks include the threat of outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as acute watery diarrhea and cholera, and outbreaks of vector-borne diseases such as typhoid, dengue, malaria and yellow fever.
These problems are approached by disrupted health care services, especially for vulnerable groups such as children, women and patients with chronic diseases.
Tens of thousands of people have lost loved ones, homes, livelihoods and all their possessions, putting them at significant risk of acute mental suffering.
Evaluation of medical facilities
WHO rapidly assessed 78 health facilities (24 hospitals and 54 primary health care facilities). More than half were reported to be closed or non-functional due to damaged infrastructure and lack of staff, medicine, supplies and equipment. The districts of Derna, Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar and Al-Marj were among the worst affected.
Restoration of functionality and relief measures
The Libyan Ministry of Health (MOH) and WHO are working to restore functionality in 10 health facilities and establish six field hospitals. A 100-bed field hospital with 10 intensive care beds, radiology services and an obstetrics and gynecology department has been established in Derna. In the town of Assahel in Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar, WHO has deployed a mobile clinic to serve the village of Al-Bayada, where the only rural hospital was damaged and forced to close. WHO also provided drugs for chronic diseases to primary health care centers in AlBayda, AlMarj, Derna, Shahat and Sousa.
Mental health promotion
On September 21, a team from WHO led by Dr. Ahmed Zouiten, WHO representative in Libya, met with health authorities in Derna to assess the most urgent needs. Mental health and psychosocial support services will be prioritized in affected communities, with services ranging from “psychological first aid” through the primary care system to specialist psychiatric care for deeply traumatized people. WHO has stepped up efforts to deploy trained mental health professionals and resources. In addition to dealing with immediate physical threats, these specialists will focus on helping survivors deal with loss, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
The environmental situation remains challenging due to the spread of disease vectors such as flies and mosquitoes. Stagnant water, especially in Al-Makhili, Derna and Soussa, is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and creates conditions conducive to the spread of malaria and water-borne diseases. According to Libya’s National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), 238 cases of diarrhea were reported between September 14 and 18, 2023.
NCDC is leading disease surveillance efforts with support from WHO. This includes active surveillance in hospitals, health facilities and shelters for displaced persons to detect potential outbreaks early and initiate control measures immediately.
Community engagement and information sharing
WHO is actively working with affected communities to communicate the main health risks after the floods and explain how people can protect themselves from water- and food-borne diseases. Awareness campaigns by WHO and health partners highlight the dangers of drinking water from unknown sources and promote the use of bottled water. Health education leaflets were distributed to raise awareness of how communities can protect themselves from diseases such as malaria, hepatitis A, dengue, typhoid and cholera. WHO also explained how people can help other survivors by providing basic psychological first aid.
WHO continues to communicate the above information through MOH, NCDC and social media platforms operated by WHO and local media.
International support and funding
WHO has set aside US$2.3 million from its Emergency Contingency Fund to help finance the immediate response. WHO has requested an additional US$11.1 million in a recently issued UN flash appeal. The Central Emergency Fund and the Government of Germany pledged US$3 million and US$1 million respectively.
On 21 September 2023, WHO and MOH convened a second meeting of health partners and donors to discuss the coordination of health measures.
For more information on WHO’s response to the Libyan flood disaster, visit: https://www.emro.who.int/lby/floods/index.html
Yahya Bouzo, Communications Officer, WHO Libya Office, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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