Shortages hamper aid work in Libya

Libyans walk past rubbles and burnt buildings along Tripoli Street in Misrata in June 2011. Aid organizations currently struggle to operate in Libya due to insecurity and a dwindling number of functioning facilities. Photo by: H. Caux / UNHCR

Aid groups in Libya — or the very few left — are struggling to carry out their work today not only because of the current insecurity, but also because most services are in short supply.

Many facilities in Libya are currently shut off. Electricity cuts, fuel shortages and interrupted communication lines are impeding organizations’ ability to move and function. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, for instance, often finds it difficult to reach its local partner, the Libyan Red Crescent Society, which feeds them information on what’s happening on the ground. IFRC is currently on standby in Libya in case there’s a need for intervention.

But that's not all. Random shelling has also forced a number of facilities to close down, such as the Al’Jala’a trauma hospital in Benghazi. This is exacerbated by the pull out of many international organizations early this month, including U.N. agencies, leaving only a handful of organizations on the ground.

ACTED, which has a number of programs in Libya focusing on youth empowerment and building the capacity of local civil society, has temporarily suspended its work. Adrien Tomarchio, the organization’s director of communications, told Devex the team is currently in Tunisia.

A number of Western embassies have also evacuated their staff.

The Libyan Red Crescent, one of the few organizations left on the ground, mainly focuses on finding safe shelter for the displaced and evacuating those injured or killed in the fighting. The organization also provides first aid and psychosocial support to affected civilians, although its latest request were for “black bags” to transport the dead. The IFRC, however, is having an emergency meeting July 31 to consider deploying a team that would provide food and water in the affected areas, Muftah Etwilb, head of IFRC North Africa, told Devex from Tunis.

The federation is also considering allocating funding from its emergency fund for the crisis and is expected to publish a list of needs identified on the ground. On Friday, it also plans to go to the Tunisian border, where thousands are waiting to cross. Many of the airports have been damaged in the fighting, so most people travel by land to Tunisia.

Etwilb, a Libyan national, also plans to travel to the country soon to assess the situation. The current crisis, he said, was unfortunately a long time coming.

“Since I arrived here [in office] in January, it was one of my priorities to be prepared for a possible escalation and that’s very clear in my negotiations with different partners here in Tunisia, and also in the regional and international level. And we predicted this confrontation could happen anytime. And accordingly we negotiated with our partners in allocating funds for this possible escalation,” he said.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011. Since then, many aid workers and diplomats have been hurt or killed: U.S. Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens was killed in 2012, and just this June, an ICRC subdelegation head died in an ambush in the Libyan city of Sirte.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.