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Medical supplies arrive in flood-ravaged Libya; halt in mass burials urged

A collapsed building in the port city of Derna, eastern Libya, is shown on Thursday in the wake of devastating floods and swept away entire neighborhoods. Medical supplies from the World Health Organization began arriving over the weekend. Photo by Stringer/EPA-EFE

Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Aid in the form of nearly 30 tons of health supplies arrived in the flood-devastated Libyan port city of Derna on Saturday as officials urged a halt to the practice of burying victims in mass graves.

Some 29 metric tons of health supplies arrived in Benghazi, Libya, from the World Health Organization's logistics hub in Dubai, enough to reach almost 250,000 people, the agency announced.

The shipment reflects "an intensified emergency response" to the flooding in eastern Libya in the aftermath of Storm Daniel, the WHO said. The supplies include essential medicines, trauma and emergency surgery supplies and medical equipment.


Also included are body bags for "the safe and dignified movement and burial of the deceased."

The WHO and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on Friday urged Libyan officials to halt the practice of placing flood victims into mass graves, calling it "detrimental to the population" and pointing out that dead bodies generally do not pose health risks.

Nearly 4,000 people killed in the flooding have been identified so far, the WHO said. The Libyan Red Crescent reported Friday that at least 11,300 people have died with another 10,100 reported as still missing.

Pierre Guyomarch, head of ICRC's forensics unit, said the belief that dead bodies will cause epidemics is not supported by evidence, adding that those who survive natural disasters "are more likely to spread disease than dead bodies.

"We urge authorities in communities touched by tragedy to not rush forward with mass burials or mass cremations," added Dr. Kazunobu Kojima of the WHO's Health Emergencies Program. "Dignified management of bodies is important for families and communities, and in the cases of conflict, is often an important component of bringing about a swifter end to the fighting."

As concern grew about a possible humanitarian disaster in Libya, the United Nations issued an urgent appeal for help in coping with both it and last week's destructive earthquake in Morocco.

"The scale of the [Libya floods] is shocking," UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths said in a statement posted on X. "We are launching a flash appeal for $71.4 million to swiftly assist 250,000 people. Getting lifesaving supplies to people and preventing a secondary health crisis is essential."

The two back-to-back devastating disasters in Morocco and Libya, he added, "are a stark reminder of the impact of natural disasters."

In its appeal, the UN noted that Libyan lawmakers have called the humanitarian situation in the country "catastrophic" and that local authorities are "overwhelmed" by the scale of the disaster. They are calling for immediate support from the UN, international organizations and neighboring countries.

In hard-hit Derna, where two burst dams sent torrents of water rushing through the area, it has been estimated that 30% of the city may have disappeared as a result. An analysis by the United Nations Satellite Center showed more than 2,200 buildings have been exposed to flooding in the port city.

The city's mayor described the situation as "rapidly deteriorating," UN officials said, and is urging aid workers to establish a sea corridor for emergency relief and evacuations since most of roads have been washed out.