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UN: Disease outbreak could spark ‘a second devastating crisis’

by The Associated Press | September 19, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

DERNA, Libya (AP) -- Officials warned Monday a disease outbreak in Libya's northeast, where floods have killed thousands, could create "a second devastating crisis" as diarrhea spread among those who drank contaminated water.

In a statement, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya said it was particularly concerned about water contamination and the lack of sanitation after two dams collapsed during Mediterranean storm Daniel, sending a wall of water gushing through the eastern city of Derna on Sept. 11. The death toll has varied, with government officials and aid agencies giving tallies ranging from about 4,000-11,000 dead.

Nine U.N. agencies responding to the disaster are working to prevent diseases from taking hold and creating another crisis in the devasted country, which is receiving 28 tons of medical supplies from the World Health Organization, the mission said.

Haider al-Saeih, head of Libya's Center for Combating Diseases, said in televised comments Saturday that at least 150 people suffered diarrhea after drinking contaminated water in Derna. No further updates have been given.

Residents from the nearby cities of Benghazi and Tobruk have offered to put up the displaced, while volunteers search for survivors buried beneath the rubble.

The disaster has brought some rare unity to oil-rich Libya, which has been divided between rival administrations since 2014. Both are backed by international patrons and armed militias whose influence in the country has ballooned since a NATO-backed Arab Spring uprising toppled autocratic ruler Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

The opposing governments have both deployed humanitarian teams to the port city and other affected areas, but poor coordination, difficulty getting aid to the hardest-hit areas and the destruction of Derna's infrastructure, including several bridges, have hampered their efforts.

Footage shot by an Associated Press journalist Monday showed hundreds of Libyan men gathered outside, and atop, a mosque in Derna before a man read a list of demands at the building's entrance. The man called on Libyan authorities to expedite their investigation into the disaster, for the U.N to set up an office in Derna, for urgent reconstruction of the city and compensation for those affected by the flood. After he finished, the hundreds gathered began chanting: "Libya, Libya, Libya."

Print Headline: UN: Disease outbreak could spark ‘a second devastating crisis’


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