“The lack of government has caused the lives of thousands of people”, says Dr. Issa Tuwegiar in evaluation of the recent catastrophe in Libya’s eastern town of Derna. But still, argues the former Libyan Minister of Planification, has the catastrophe presented a “complete turnover” in Libyan politics towards unification. Here’s our interview with Dr. Issa Tuwegiar conducted by phone.
How is the situation in the affected area?
The area is very much stable and secure, except for some minor incidents of theft. The situation in general is under control.
There have been many, many losses. There are disappeared people. Houses, complete houses, multi-story houses disappeared. Water reached 5 floors, 6 floors.
So people are being searched. There are disappeared people and the rescues are ongoing, that’s what I understand, in the city of Derna?
Yes, there are very big rescue teams from many countries, and this is highly appreciated. People from all over Libya, from the west and from the south went to Derna to rescue, to help, to supply, to give medicine and all what is needed. There is a lot of feelings and unity around this incident.
Is there an investigation going on on why this, there was the dam that broke. Is there an investigation why that happened?
You know, the water flow was too much because of a storm coming from Greece. And the quantity of water was too big for the dam to handle. I’m sure maybe there are problems with the dam, but this is not the point. The dam will not stand the size of water. It was broken, and the water covered the whole city.
So maybe the problem started with the storm ‘Daniel’, but that’s not the main reason. The main reason is the quantity of water and the break of the dam.
So how do you describe the general mood in the population? You said that everyone went to the region to help, to rescue people. Is there a kind of reuniting in the population facing this catastrophe?
Well, yes, it shows that Libyans are really united. It’s not reunification. It shows that people are already united.
And the division is only political. So as soon as the incident has happened, people from everywhere moved toward the incident sites and supplied all they can to help the people.
And this move was highly appreciated by our Eastern brothers, because they thought we would not supply this help, you know, because of the fight and the war on Tripoli and such things. But actually, people do not really take this into consideration. They forget everything. They just moved to help their brothers in Derna and in the East.
You know, this is a quite normal situation in Libya. It’s not something that happens now. It happens all the time. Whenever there is a catastrophe, and by the way, this is not the first time that this wadi brings too much water and make flood in the area.
So that happened before, too?
It happened in the 1959. We found even an old article in the newspaper in 1959 describing the situation as if it is just like now.
But this time, it is much more tragic. Complete families have disappeared. You find that were 30, 50 last names disappearing in the area. Six-floor buildings are thrown into the sea. The area around the valley was practically demolished. The affected area is very big.
And so do you see any changes in the political sphere in reaction to the catastrophe? Do you see that different political fractions are reaching out to each other?
Yes, I think this is the start of a complete turnover. And many people pledge that there is no war after this. So yes, it will have an effect on the politicians and on the political situation. I think Libyans will not fight again, following one person or one family or fighting for a cause that is not national. No Libyans will fight Libyans anymore. That’s what everybody is pledging.
This is a kind of turning point in the political consciousness that life is what matters most?
Yes, and it came at a time when the international community and the local authorities are seeking to unite the government. And I think it will support this initiative and give it the push because it is starting to be really crucial. Because one of the reasons that we lost many people is the lack of governance. The lack of governance, as nobody was able to take a decision to evacuate the people from there, despite rumors about the mayor of Derna calling for evacuation one day before the incident. But this call was not answered.
And maybe some other people say no, stay home and don’t go out. So it shows that the lack of governance, it shows the lack of government also. There is no state facility. Even now in the management of the crisis, people talk about the lack of coherence, the lack of leadership.
This shows that it’s time for Libya to seek a good leadership to lead Libya out of these disasters.
Do you see any steps, any moves from different parts, different political fractions to reconcile or to reach out to opposing forces in face of this catastrophe, leaving behind yesterday’s conflict. Do you observe any steps like this?
Yes, yes, yes. There are many politicians expressing the need for unity and to overcome all these divisions. Actually, the move from the Western side to help the brothers in the East was done on deliberation of the government and on the level of all the institutions, on the individuals, NGOs, and on the government as well. So it was done on a regular level. This shows solidarity, it shows the need for unity.
So and was there any, when the aid was sent, was there any stopping of it by the Eastern Authority or did the aid and the support from the Western side arrive easily and without any problem to the affected zone?
The help arrived without any problem. There are many people who are trying to say that, but it is not really true, because people who went there, they said no, there were no obstacles, and the help was arriving at them and the eastern parts.
The people from here, they were met by those people, you know, on the way and were greeted and were supported. And also help was added to them. And I think there is a lot of, it is a change, it’s a change from before. I hope it will continue to unify government and to hold good elections so that we can have a state which is governed by legitimate bodies.
So, the pressure from the population on the politicians to agree will grow in the face of this catastrophe.
At least now, the politicians know that nobody will go forward with them.