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Humanitarian needs remain high following devastating floods in Libya

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And now to Libya, where massive flooding has left at least 11,000 people dead, with at least 10,000 people still missing. That's according to the Libyan Red Crescent. And for survivors, immense humanitarian needs remain, including shelter, access to critical medical care, food and clean water. One group that's providing assistance on the ground in Derna is the International Medical Corps. Talal Burnaz is the acting country director for Libya. He joins us now from Benghazi. Welcome.

TALAL BURNAZ: Hello.

CHANG: Hi. So I understand that you toured Derna yesterday. Can you just tell us what you saw there?

BURNAZ: What I saw was basically devastating. Buildings were destroyed, and streets were branched (ph) out by the flooding. So the - what I saw cannot be described in words unless you're there and see that around 25% of the city has been washed out by the flooding.

CHANG: Wow. What would you say are the most urgent needs at this moment?

BURNAZ: So according to our conversation with the local organizations and local authorities operating in the cities and our observation on the ground, I think that the most urgent needs would be shelter, providing health care to the community there, providing food items as well and most importantly is providing psychosocial support to the victims and survivors of this flooding.

CHANG: Are you able to get that psychosocial support out there at this moment? What are the greatest obstacles?

BURNAZ: I think that the most challenge would be on how to reach survivors. But of course, with collaborating with the local authorities and working closely with the community, we will be able to reach the affected communities.

CHANG: When you were touring Derna yesterday, was there a particular person, a particular image that has especially struck you?

BURNAZ: I would say the most emotional image that I witnessed yesterday when I was in Derna is that when we first got in the ground and started moving around the destroyed buildings, we saw many persons looking for their family members. We saw many women crying and speaking to the search-and-rescue teams, begging them to try to find their relatives alive. So that was, I think, the image that most stuck in my mind.

CHANG: Heartbreaking. Well, I understand that there is a potential health risk posed by many of the bodies that have still not been recovered, that are still decomposing. How concerned are you that there is such a risk?

BURNAZ: I think that we all share this concern, especially that many of the missing people basically were not found yet. And many of the dead bodies are being washed out in other nearby cities. So the concern is that if these bodies will remain there without being processed, basically, we will have lots of diseases that caused by mosquitoes, like, for example, cholera.

CHANG: Right.

BURNAZ: And we saw statements from the National Center for Disease Control advising the government to at least make sure that they block the access to these areas for now until they complete the search-and-rescue operations.

CHANG: And may I ask you, Talal, because I know that you have been doing humanitarian work in Libya for years now, struggling with so many challenges there, and what's happening now seems especially hard - how are you and other aid workers holding up?

BURNAZ: So basically, we're holding up because our aim is to help the most affected communities. And what we see now and what we saw yesterday in the city of Derna was, I mean, beyond imagination - I mean, the destruction. What keeps us basically working and providing is seeing the victims and suffering of those people and our desire to at least get them through these difficult times.

CHANG: Yes. Well, thank you for everything that you are doing now. That is Talal Burnaz, the International Medical Corps acting country director for Libya. Thank you.

BURNAZ: Thank you for having me.

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Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.