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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 38 September 16, 2023

Why the West is Reluctant to name the Biggest Culprit of the Libyan Disaster | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 16 September 2023, by Bharat Dogra


This is clearly the time for giving the highest priority to the rescue and rehabilitation effort In Libya where the recent floods have caused massive destruction. At the time of writing this over 5300 persons are reported to have died, and thousands more are reported missing. According to Derna Mayor Abdulbenam al-Ghaithi (quoted in a Reuters report published in The Times of India dated September 15), deaths in the city could reach 18,000 to 20,000. He said he feared an epidemic due to bodies buried under the rubble or still in water. A leading rescue worker has been quoted in newspapers to have stated that the biggest shortage he faces is of bags in which to keep bodies. This just goes to show how serious and tragic the situation in Libya and more particularly in Derna has been.

A big respect should be given to all those rescue workers from Libya and abroad who have contributed to the rescue effort in very difficult conditions and in the absence of essential facilities and equipment for this.
No doubt this was a very terrible storm and flood (related to climate change), but equally clearly the tragedy would have been less severe and the loss of lives would have been much, much lesser if simultaneously there had not been a long-term and short-term governance failure as well.

Petteri Taalashe, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, has stated in Geneva that a normally operating meteorological service could have issued warnings and evacuations based on this could have been carried out, resulting in saving many precious human lives.

Let us first look at the longer-term needs of disaster-protection. Protective needs of cities in coastal areas, which are more vulnerable to floods and storms, have to be attended to properly. Dam safety and proper maintenance in particular should get priority attention. Emergency protocols should be in place. The meteorological warning arrangements as well as the response system should be strong. Administration should be well-trained to carry out emergency evacuation and communities too should be well-prepared for this. Well-built shelters with food stocks and other essential supplies should be ready. Rescue equipment and machinery should be available in or close to high-risk areas. In the short-term there should have been clearer and earlier warning of the seriousness of the coming threat, learning also from the big storm in Greece. There should have been much better and much bigger mobilization of the available resources for rescue work.

Unfortunately, there has been a serious failure in almost all these contexts, resulting in such heavy damage and the loss of so many human lives.
This failure in turn has been linked time and again to the prolonged civil war type conditions in Libya for over a decade and the division of authority between the eastern and the western regimes. Clearly it is not difficult to understand that even the most urgent safety and disaster-protection steps can get neglected in such conditions.

Hence in a way big western newspapers are right when they use headings such as ‘climate change meets a failed state’ to describe the situation in Libya. They are right also when they condemn the narrow vision, selfishness, violence and corruption of the twin authorities. However the problem is that the big western media does not go beyond this to ask who has the greatest responsibility for this entire tragedy of the recent decline and divide of Libya, who created this civil war and its corrupt and badly divided authorities in the first place.

The fact is that till just two decades back Libya was one of the most prosperous countries in Africa and for several years had recorded the highest human development indicators in the entire continent of Africa. In year 2010 the literacy rate was over 88 per cent and the life expectancy was over 75 years. There was a high degree of gender equality with education of girls being widespread. Despite the existence of over 100 tribal groups, stability and internal peace had been achieved. In fact rebellious groups became strong only after the instigation they started receiving from western sources.
The needs of its people, the needs of its essential infra-structure were well taken care of, and in addition there was help for some less prosperous neighboring countries as well.

Then in and around 2011 the USA, the UK and France intervened militarily to bring a regime-change, acting under the guise of humanitarian intervention. The reasons given for this were false and this has been exposed not just by several eminent scholars and leaders but also by a UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Report. In fact the rebels whom these western forces sought to help had several sectarian and cruel elements among them, and this too was confirmed later by the strong emergence of several sectarian violent groups within Libya and its neighboring areas.

In the guise of humanitarian intervention, fed by lies, a regime change military operation was launched by NATO which relied heavily on very heavy bombing raids, thousands and thousands of such raids. These killed civilians in large numbers, although launched in the name of protecting civilians. These destroyed infra-structure in a very big way. Several very reasonable and well-intentioned proposals for cease fire were declined by the western powers or at their instigation as regime-change was their real objective from the start to the end.

Hence what should be very clear is that the roots of disintegration and governance failure in Libya should be traced first and foremost to the USA, UK and France who played the biggest role in the highly destructive bombing and regime change of 2011, helped by allies. Look at the mess they created in Libya, with several tribal and religious fanatic groups getting hold of highly destructive weapons to inflict indiscriminate violence. All human development indicators have been sharply declining after the regime change brought by leading western countries and infra-structure has fallen into decay.

Without stating this clearly, the western big media is at best telling only a half-truth while bringing out the governance failure in Libya, particularly in the context of the inadequacy of preventive, warning and rescue efforts which could have minimized the losses from Storm Daniel.

True, results are likely to be disastrous when climate change meets a failed state. But we should also ask—who is responsible for creating a failed state? Who tried its best to ruin Iraq, to ruin Syria, to ruin Yugoslavia, to ruin Libya with bombs and terrible weapons? Why and how once happy, reasonably prosperous countries have been destroyed so quickly one after the other?

Certainly climate change is a big threat, and to meet this threat there should be peace. There should be no wars and military interventions; instead the rich countries should help the poorer countries for climate change mitigation and adaptation. But this is not what the richest countries have done in Libya, Iraq, former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Syria and several other countries. In fact the richest countries have harmed these and several other countries in very serious ways which makes it much more difficult for them to respond to climate change emergencies, and what we are seeing in Libya is just one example, just one manifestation of this tragic reality.

(Author: Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Man over Machine, Protecting Earth for Children and A Day in 2071)

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