A warning could have been issued if the divided nation had a ?normally? operating meteorological service, the global body said
The majority of the fatalities and property damage caused by disastrous floods in Libya could have been prevented if adequate early warning and emergency management systems had been in place, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Thursday.
"The emergency management authorities would have been able to carry out evacuation of the people. And we could have avoided most of the human casualties," Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the WMO, told reporters in Geneva.
Flash flooding struck eastern Libya on Sunday, bursting two dams and sweeping neighborhoods in the Mediterranean city of Derna into the sea. The North African country's meteorological center reportedly issued severe weather warnings 72 hours prior to the storm and notified governmental authorities via email.
However, WMO chief Taalas has raised doubts about the efficiency of the warnings disseminated, saying that Libya's main difficulty in dealing with the aftermath of floods was that the governing system was "not functioning normally."
"If they would have been a normally operating meteorological service, they could have issued a warning," he said.
Rescue efforts in Derna are intensifying, with eastern Libyan government officials reporting at least 6,000 deaths, 10,000 missing, and more than 7,000 injured. On Thursday, Derna mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi said as many as 20,000 people may have died.
Rescue operations in Derna are said to be complicated by the country's political divisions. Since Muammar Gaddafi was deposed in 2011 in a NATO-backed intervention, Libya has been divided between the internationally recognized Government of National Unity in Tripoli and a rival administration in the east.
On Thursday, Taalas claimed that previous UN WMO efforts to assist Libyan authorities in improving the country's meteorological system had been hampered by security threats.
"Since the security situation in the country is so difficult, it's difficult to go there and improve the situation," Taalas said, according to a Reuters report.
The UN Refugee Agency's national charity in the UK has launched an urgent appeal for Libya, aiming to raise $71.4 million in aid.
The World Health Organization also announced on Thursday that it is releasing $2 million from its contingency fund to support emergency efforts in eastern Libya.
Twenty-eight metric tons of emergency supplies will arrive in the North African country on Friday from the WHO logistics hub in Dubai, according to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the world body's director general.