Role of U.S./NATO war in Libyan flood

A close look at the catastrophic flood that hit the port city of Derna in northeastern Libya Sept. 9 shows that it was no natural disaster. Nor was its scale due only to the climate crisis. Those Western leaders who ordered the 2011 U.S./NATO war that destroyed the then-existing Libyan government are responsible for the vast number of victims.

At budget demonstration in New York City, March 21, 2011, activist hits NATO war against Libya. (Credit: WW Photo: John Catalinotto)

News media of all types have reported on the destruction of Derna, on the 11,300 deaths reported by Sept. 17 and on 10,000 more missing. Photos show large swaths of the port city of 90,000 people swept away when two dams broke following hurricane-level rains.

It might seem excessive to blame a disaster of such scale on the actions of U.S.-led institutions like the Pentagon, the CIA and NATO some 12 years earlier. But that’s only because the same media that report the details of the disaster hide the pernicious role of U.S. imperialism and its leaders, who in 2011 were in the Barack Obama administration. 

According to reports from Libya, the dams had no maintenance during the last 12 years, there was no warning system in place, there were no popular organizations to provide emergency service and during the first week there was no organized rescue operation, either from the two contesting Libyan regimes or from foreign organizations.

No conspiracy theory

It’s no conspiracy theory to state that the inhumane acts of the humans who act on behalf of the capitalist ruling class worldwide are responsible for much of the suffering in Libya. And the government most responsible resides in Washington.

This week the protests at the United Nations drew attention to the change in the climate brought upon by the burning of fossil fuels. As Workers World explained in a recent article (, the capitalist system is responsible for the uncontrolled use of fossil-fuel energy, which has increased the severity of recent “natural” disasters. 

Excessive heat all through summer 2023, wildfires in Europe, Canada and Hawaiʻi, and floods in East Asia have made everyone aware that the climate catastrophe is no joke, although the leaders of the imperialist countries — the G7, for example — are doing little to nothing about it.

NATO destroyed Libya 2011

For decades before 2011, the 6.5 million Libyan people had a functional government. They enjoyed the best standard of living of any African country, with free health care and widespread education support. The Libyan economy provided jobs for Libyans and for another million migrants from countries further south in Africa.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi invested much of the country’s wealth into storing and providing water, promoting the most extensive underground aqueduct in the world, with 1,750 miles of pipelines. 

The NATO imperialists, however, considered Gadhafi a threat and an enemy, as they had since the Libyan leader deposed a puppet monarchy in 1969. NATO used the pretext of an internal opposition to open a war on Gadhafi’s government. The war began in February 2011, with missile strikes from French jets. Soon the U.S. Air Force took the lead, carrying out regular bombing runs from bases in Italy to strike Libyan government targets.

One of NATO’s targets was a factory producing pipes to transport water underground.

After NATO bombing wore down the government army, Gadhafi’s internal enemies murdered him in August. Then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton commented a month later, “We came, we saw, he died.” (CBS News, Oct. 20, 2011) 

The U.S/NATO crushing of the Gadhafi-led government destroyed Libya as a stable, unified state, depleted its treasury, ushered in a long civil war that still has Libya divided in two and created chaos through much of North Africa and the Sahel. Small terrorist groups from around the region obtained arms and threatened local governments. Referred to in the corporate media as “jihadists,” these groups were a pretext for military intervention, mainly by the French and U.S. military.  

One can assume a functioning government of the type Gadhafi led, which had given priority to water supplies, would have at least maintained the dams’ structures, would have trained meteorologists predicting the dangerous weather and would have had popular organizations prepared to evacuate the population.

As our hearts go out to the victims of the unnatural disasters in Libya, Morocco and Hawaiʻi, we should be clear that the world capitalist system dominated by the G7 is a major contributor. In Libya particularly, U.S./NATO aggression is the direct cause of the catastrophe.

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