People in Derna, Libya, are facing the grim challenge of dealing with thousands of decaying dead bodies that have remained buried under rubble after a devastating flood.
The flood resulted from torrential rains that caused two dams to burst in a nation already divided by a decade of conflict and political turmoil and the coastal city of Derna is badly affected.
World Health Organization (WHO) has urged Libyan authorities to refrain from burying flood victims in mass graves due to concerns about the long-term mental distress for families and potential health risks if the graves are located near water. Mass burials have already taken place for more than 1,000 people in Derna alone.
The situation in Derna is dire, with bodies littering the streets and buried under collapsed buildings and debris. There are concerns about groundwater pollution from water mixed with corpses, dead animals, refuse, and chemicals. The risk of waterborne diseases spreading is also a concern.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that over 5,000 people are presumed dead, with 3,922 deaths registered in hospitals, and more than 38,640 people displaced in the flood-affected region. However, the true death toll could be even higher.
International organizations are calling for better management of burials, advocating for individual graves that are demarcated and documented instead of hasty mass burials. They emphasize that bodies of trauma victims from natural disasters generally do not pose a health threat unless they are near fresh water supplies.
The situation has prompted international aid efforts, including the supply of body bags and other resources. The risk of landmines being dislodged by flooding has also led to the dispatch of explosives disposal experts.
Despite these efforts, some residents express frustration with the slow response from Libya’s fragmented authorities. The need for equipment to locate trapped individuals and provide primary healthcare to prevent cholera outbreaks is a top priority, according to UN aid chief Martin Griffiths.