Mental Health: ‘Broken in two’: Libya flood survivors grapple with mental health

by Rahul Devi

The city of Derna in eastern Libya is still reeling from the devastating floods that occurred nearly a month ago. The disaster, caused by extreme rainfall from Storm Daniel, resulted in the bursting of two upstream dams, which sent floodwaters crashing through the city. The destruction has had a profound psychological impact on the survivors, many of whom are mourning the loss of loved ones or still waiting for news about their whereabouts.

The floods in Derna have been likened to a tsunami, and the city now stands divided, with entire neighborhoods razed and many people swept into the Mediterranean Sea. The death toll stands at over 4,000, with thousands more reported missing. For days, the residents held on to hope of finding survivors, but now they are faced with the distressing reality of recovering lifeless bodies from the sea.

The psychological toll on the survivors is immense. Many are experiencing grief, trauma, and anxiety. Michel-Olivier Lacharite, the head of emergencies at the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, has observed that almost everyone in the city is in mourning and suffering. Children, in particular, are deeply affected, with some even refusing to drink water for fear of drowning.

This flood is the latest catastrophe to hit Libya, a country already ravaged by war and lawlessness since the ousting and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011. The World Health Organization has noted the emerging mental health needs among the affected population, as the initial shock of the devastation begins to dissipate. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has also emphasized the immense psychological toll on the residents of Derna.

Efforts are being made to provide mental health support to the survivors. The IRC has deployed medical teams, including mental health professionals, to respond to the crisis. They are working with Libya’s health ministry to establish a mental health unit. Similarly, the International Medical Corps has announced agreements with Libyan authorities to provide medical follow-up and train personnel in Derna to provide psychological support.

However, the extent of the devastation has rendered many of the city’s medical facilities unusable. Rebuilding the physical infrastructure of Derna is crucial, but experts stress the importance of also rebuilding the spirit and mental well-being of the shattered community. The authorities must prioritize the social and mental reconstruction of the traumatized inhabitants who need both short-term and long-term support.

The floods in Derna have left more than 42,000 people displaced, adding to the already dire situation in Libya. As the focus shifts to rebuilding the city, it is essential to address the psychological needs of the survivors and ensure that adequate mental health services are available. Providing basic services and support for the mental well-being of the affected population must go hand in hand. Only through a comprehensive approach can the city of Derna recover and rebuild its shattered community.

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