Derna, a City Brimming with Potential Pays a High Price and Triggers Collective Awakening

Yasmeen El Gerbi
5 min readSep 29, 2023
Nasa Earth Observatory: Storm Aftermath in Derna, Libya

Derna, the East Libyan city and the recent subject of countless media headlines has witnessed a surreal tragedy. Derna triggered a deep awakening that can’t be left in the margins. On September 11th, massive floods caused entire neighborhood to be dragged into the sea. Thousands of families disappeared in an instance, with all their stories, memories, anticipations, love, and histories. Derna’s floods have been the source of immense grief and anger, not only because of the tremendous loss, but also because this loss could’ve been prevented. The primary cause of the flood is climate change; a significant existential threat that demands urgent global action. However, the collapse of the two dams that were in need of urgent renovation could’ve prevented the floods from submerging the city. A budget of up to 2 million USD was allocated to renovate the dams which was ignored by Libyan leaders who were preoccupied with conflict, divisiveness, and political disorder.

But Derna has spoken. Hundreds went out in protests, both from Derna and from all over Libya, speaking up against the long-term neglect of the city’s infrastructure. A renewed view of Libya as a unity, which was prominent in Libyan collective consciousness during the revolution of 2011, also re-emerged. Libyans from both East and West rushed to save Derna, launched fundraisers, and collected donations to rescue the impacted families who lost their homes and loved ones. Announcements of free housing in different cities of Libya such as Misurata and Tripoli began to circulate on Social Media platforms, expressing solidarity with the people of Derna. This renewed solidarity stood in sharp contrast to the stagnant East-West political divide in Libyan consciousness. Libyans view the divide to be a product of political elite’s corrupt leadership. An atmosphere of distrust of authority is growing among Libyans as they grapple with the immense grief of this tragedy that left permanent scars in the city known to be “the city of Poets” as recently written in a New York Times headline.

Derna, the City of Boundless Potential and Struggle

Derna is a cultural and intellectual hub known for her literature, music, and to be the birthplace of modern…

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Yasmeen El Gerbi

I like exploring the complexity underlying our ideas, emotions, stories, norms, and lives.