More than 16,000 children are displaced in eastern Libya following Africa’s deadliest storm in recorded history the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned on Thursday, highlighting the urgent need for psychosocial care.
UNICEF stated that many more children are affected due to lack of essential services, such as health, schooling and safe water supply.
“When disasters hit, children are always among the most vulnerable,” said Adele Khodr, UNICEF’s Regional Director, who has just returned from a visit to Al Bayda and Derna.
Storm Daniel struck eastern Libya on 10 September and left widespread flooding and destruction in its wake across Derna, Albayda, Soussa, Al-Marj, Shahat, Taknis, Battah, Tolmeita, Bersis, Tokra and Al-Abyar.
Torrential rainfall and the collapse of two dams flooded the coastal city, sweeping entire neighborhoods into the Mediterranean Sea.
Close to 4,000 died in the floods and 9,000 more are still unaccounted for, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
While the missing are presumed dead, their bodies still trapped under debris or in the sea, many still hope their loved ones could still be alive. The deadly flooding has forced schools to host some displaced families.
UNICEF has been working with authorities and partners since the beginning of the tragedy to respond to the urgent needs of children and families in the affected areas.
Haunted day and night
“I saw the devastating toll the floods have already taken on children and families. I met families grappling with a high psychological burden and I spoke to children in extreme distress, many not sleeping and unable to interact and play”, Ms. Khodr said.
“The memory of what happened still haunts their dreams and their thoughts. Now is the time to focus on recovery, including support the reopening of schools, provide psychosocial support, rehabilitate primary health care facilities and restore water systems. The tragedy is not over, and we should not forget the children of Derna and Al Bayda,”
Cry for help
The number of children among the casualties is not yet confirmed but UNICEF fears hundreds died in the disaster, given that children account for about 40 per cent of the population.
Significant damage to health and education infrastructure means children once again risk further disruption to their learning and the outbreak of deadly diseases. In the impacted region, out of 117 schools, four were destroyed and 80 partially damaged.
Waterborne illnesses are a growing concern due to water supply issues, significant damage to water sources and sewer networks.
In Derna alone, 50 per cent of water systems are estimated to have been damaged.
Clinging to hope
UNICEF has been actively supporting the children in eastern Libya since day two of the crisis. Sixty-five metric tonnes of relief supplies have been delivered to affected areas, including medical supplies for 50,000 people for three months, family hygiene kits for almost 17,000 people, 500 children’s winter clothing sets, 200 school-in-a-box kits and 32,000 water purification tablets.
The children’s agency has also dispatched mobile child protection and psychosocial support teams.
“As we continue our life-saving response efforts, we also appeal to the authorities and donors to invest in long-term recovery that is equitable, resilient and child-focused,” added Ms. Khodr.