Global warming made the storm that caused one of Libya’s worst floods up to 50 times more likely, according to researchers from World Weather Attribution, an international research collaboration focused on studying the impacts of climate change.
The research team found that climate change, civil war and international sanctions all contributed to the devastation caused by the destruction of two dams that released an estimated 30 million cubic metres of water into the city of Derna.
A team of researchers at World Weather Attribution raced to understand the causes of the disaster.
Their report found that climate change made the levels of rainfall that devastated the Mediterranean in early September up to 50 times more likely in Libya and up to 10 times more likely in Greece. The team also stressed that Derna residents were made more vulnerable due to factors such as building homes on floodplains, chopping down trees and not maintaining dams.
“The interaction of these factors, and the very heavy rain that was worsened by climate change, created the extreme destruction [in Libya],” the scientists wrote.
Mark Zeitoun, director-general of the research centre Geneva Water Hub, called it “the curse of war and weather”.
The team reached their conclusions by using climate and computer simulations to compare weather events today with what they might have been if the climate had not already warmed by 1.2°C above preindustrial temperatures.
They found that the “extremely unusual” storm event delivered 50 per cent more rain than it would have if there was no global warming. In contrast, these types of extreme weather events are now likely to occur once every 300-600 years.
The report found the ongoing conflict and political instability in Libya worsened the situation. The destroyed dams were built in the 1970s and had been poorly maintained.
Enrique Doblas, an ecologist and member of Mediterranean Experts on Climate Change and Environment, who was not involved in the study, said: “This reinforces our understanding that while climate change can be seen as the underlying cause of recent catastrophes, its impacts are exacerbated by landscape management that lacks adequate preventive measures.”
Julie Arrighi, a director at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, said: “This devastating disaster shows how climate-change-fuelled extreme weather events are combining with human factors to create even bigger impacts as more people, assets and infrastructure are exposed and vulnerable to flood risks.”
The researchers stressed two main limitations in their analysis: the lack of long-term data from local weather stations and the ability of climate models to represent rare extremes over small areas.
It is estimated that as many as 20,000 people could have died in Libya as a result of the floods. Official death tolls have confirmed that 5,000 have died, and at least another 10,000 are missing.
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