The humanitarian tragedy in Libya

Sunday 28/08/2016

Humanitarian tragedies in the Middle East are set to worsen in the coming weeks as war against the Islamic State (ISIS) intensifies. There is good reason for the international community to be concerned about the effect on Syrian and Iraqi civilians and take the necessary measures to alleviate the conse­quences.

In Libya, another humanitarian crisis is unfolding as hundreds of thousands of people live at risk as the result of ongoing conflict and domestic strife.

UN Special Representative to Libya Martin Kobler, in an address to the UN Security Council in June, described the situation in Libya as “tragic”. Not much has changed since then.

About 2.4 million of Libya’s 6.3 million people are said by interna­tional agencies to be in need of humanitarian assistance. They lack adequate access to shelter, sanitation, food and water, medical services, education and other basic needs.

As many as 435,000 Libyans are displaced inside their own country. Thousands of them have fled their homes since 2011 — but mostly since 2014 — to escape conflict and violence.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, 95% of the internally displaced were driven from their homes by armed conflict, including military operations against ISIS.

More than 300,000 Libyans are estimated to have returned to their homes. This should be good news except that efforts to resettle returnees are hindered by lack of adequate infrastructure.

To end the humanitarian crisis, Libyans need to meet the twin challenges of defeating ISIS and establishing an effective govern­ment. Victory over ISIS will require international and regional cooperation. So does the establishment of an effective central government.

To fill the power vacuum, the Libyan Government of National Accord should receive formal endorsement at home. This has not happened despite the signing of a broad political agreement to that effect last December in Morocco.

Until that takes place, health, education and other social services will suffer. The health care system is barely functional in main cities such as Tripoli and Benghazi. It is even more grossly inad­equate in southern Libya where there has been a high dependence on foreign health workers, many of whom have left the country.

Minors who are exposed to crime and recruitment by militias are not receiving the education they need. Save the Children Interna­tional states that half the children in Libya are not in school.

Children also bear a disproportionate burden of the tragedy: the charity said one to three children are injured or killed each week in Benghazi alone.

The lawlessness that characterises many parts of Libya has created a tragedy within a tragedy: the plight of migrants from Sub-Saharan and Middle Eastern countries. About 270,000 foreign migrants live in dire conditions in Libya, often preparing for an illegal, dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean to Europe.

No fewer than 200,000 migrants are expected to reach Italy in 2016. Already this year more than 3,160 of them have died trying to cross to Europe.

Kobler last August called on Libyans and their international partners to show greater resolve in addressing Libya’s humanitarian crisis. It all starts with the defeat of terror and the re-establishment of authority in the potentially rich North Africa country.