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Libyan government officials face harsh criticism for response to flooding

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Countries mired in conflict and political instability are especially vulnerable to climate disasters. That's on full display in Libya right now, where civil war, aging infrastructure and a battle for political power between two rival governments contributed to just how deadly the flooding from Storm Daniel was. And when I spoke to Asma Khalifa, a Libyan activist and researcher based in Sweden, she said now Libyan officials are treating the response to the floods like a war, with curfews and checkpoints, and it's hindering relief efforts.

ASMA KHALIFA: It basically cripples a country's effective, quick response to a disaster and relieving its population. Not to mention that war is often synonymous with corruption. It's synonymous with abuse of public fund that is going into funding more military operations, which is exactly the case for Libya. The dam have been flagged as vulnerable for a long, long time now by people who live in the valley. There has been a report from the anti-corruption authority in 2021 that shows that the government actually allocated money for repairs. A company on their website, when we double-checked this, said that they have repaired the dam, but the dam has not been repaired. So the money has went down somewhere, but not for the dams.

FADEL: And you're referring to the two dams that were in Derna that were swept away by the flood. So that was about neglect and nobody refurbishing them.

KHALIFA: The same for the roads. Most of the roads in Libya are from the '70s and the '80s without having been repaired or maintained.

FADEL: So were there things that should have been done before to prevent the scale of loss we see today?

KHALIFA: There was a warning. There should have been a communication about it. There should have been an evacuation, at least. There should have been immediately an aid response. So I don't know if you know this, but this government has not issued a statement in the West. And the parliament in the East did an emergency meeting four days after the disaster has hit. For two days, we heard nothing from them - two days.

FADEL: Oh, my gosh.

KHALIFA: It's not just that they are inadequate, incompetent and corrupt. They are - they're careless, and our lives don't matter to them.

FADEL: What is the international community's responsibility here? What should places like the U.S., the U.N., France, others be doing?

KHALIFA: I've been an activist since 2011. I've been in the policy circles talking about this for eight - now - years. It's - this government, at least in the West, comes from an international-backed agreement. It comes from the U.N. And we have told them time and time again that as long as you don't put incentive and accountability into any process that you facilitate, these actors will spoil it. These actors are not interested in uniting a government. They are interested in remaining in power, and they're interested in continuing to steal.

But there is no - you have an EU that is divided because countries are clashing with each other. You have a U.S. which is very hesitant to taking anything concrete because of what happened in 2011 and its role in 2011. So no one is interested, really, in actually making sure those who sit at the table will follow through agreements. They keep backing off their promises. It needs to - there needs to be accountability for all the corruption. There needs to be sanctions on them and their foreign bank accounts and foreign investments, incentives that would actually make them let go of power so that we could have, finally, an elected government.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADICAL FACE'S "WALTZING IN THE ASHES")

FADEL: That was Asma Khalifa, an activist and researcher who is tracking the domestic and international response to last week's catastrophic floods in Libya. She spoke to us from Sweden.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADICAL FACE'S "WALTZING IN THE ASHES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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