Friday, September 29, 2023

“Worse than war”: in Libya, the psychological trauma of the floods

Bleary-eyed Ibrar Goma, 15, struggles to find the words to describe the loss of three of his friends in the floods that devastated his town of Derna in eastern Libya.

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“We will never forget this day in Derna,” he told AFP, trying to remember how his father saved his seven family members from the floods that invaded their house nine days ago.

After the storm passed, Daniel, “there were bodies on the ground, with cars on top of them,” he says from his bed in a hospital in Benghazi, the big city in the east, 300 kilometers west of Derna.

On his white comforter, a comic that he sometimes tries to leaf through to distract himself from the tragedy experienced in his country, already ravaged by violence since 2011 and the fall of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

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“This is the first time in my life I have seen something so big, even during the war it was not so difficult,” he continues quietly.

“Very rare”

“I am psychologically tired. My city has completely disappeared, maybe they will rebuild it, but the people will never return,” she says, under the gaze of his mother, who has been by her side for several days.

For Fadwa El-Fartass, head doctor of the Benghazi medical center, after these floods that left thousands dead or missing, “the psychological traumas are greater than the physical ones.”

“Even people who are not from Derna are shocked, because these types of events are very rare in Libya,” he told AFP.

The authorities in the east of the country have opened an investigation to try to determine the circumstances that caused two dams to break upstream of the town of 100,000 inhabitants, causing a violent flood that devastated neighborhoods of Derna towards the Mediterranean and left thousands of dead. and disappeared.

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On local television, officials and presenters highlight the need to prioritize psychological support for the inhabitants of Derna.

“It is not only children who are traumatized,” said Health Minister for Eastern Libya, Othman Abdeljalil, during a press conference in Derna on Sunday afternoon: “Adults should also go to specialists.”

In the first days, “some survivors could not or refused to speak, as if they were coming out of a bad dream,” says Fartass.

“Quite a story”

But that has not discouraged the team of social and psychological workers (26 women and two men) at the Benghazi Medical Center who take turns at their beds.

Now, Fatma Baayo, who heads the team, tells AFP, “we arrive, we introduce ourselves and they talk to us immediately: they need someone to listen to them.”

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“Everyone tells their stories: some say they heard a big explosion, others said they ran before they were submerged, others saved their children,” he says.

Face à eux, «il faut rester fort: si je faiblis devant un patient, il va s’effondrer, donc je dois tenir le coup pour qu’il sorte de la crise qu’il traverse», renchérit sa collègue Salma al-Zawi , 40 years.

“We use all means to help them: we encourage them, we try to alleviate the pain, we help them talk so that they cry and relieve the pressure,” he explains again to AFP.

And when night comes, he says he recharges his batteries at home: “I come home and see my six children safe and healthy. This makes me happy because I know that there are many other people, especially children, who are suffering in my country.”

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