With the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi, the international community’s engagement in Libya is constantly evolving and taking on new dimensions.
While official figures have yet to be released, the take down of the Gadhafi regime came at a high human cost. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that the six-month civil war internally displaced 218,000 Libyans and killed roughly 10,000 to 15,000 people. Based on reports from local hospitals, officials, and former rebel commanders, the interim health minister Naji Barakat estimates that at least 30,000 were killed, 50,000 wounded, and 4,000 missing (although there is some lingering debate over the validity of these numbers). Scattered battles still flare across the country with Gadhafi loyalists refusing to accept defeat and lay down their arms.
Still, the relative calm following Gadhafi’s removal from power has allowed international agencies to provide much needed relief. There has been an influx of food, water, and medical aid to Libya. Currently assisting on the ground are the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, Médecins du Monde, Emergency, Islamic Relief, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, and the Mines Advisory Group.
Unlike other war-torn and conflict-affected areas across the world, Libya will have some of its own money to spend on critical development initiatives. In addition to direct foreign aid commitments and proceeds from oil, the U.N. has approved the release of $1.5 billion worth of Libyan frozen assets in U.S. banks, $1.5 billion in British banks, $2.14 billion in French banks, $3.52 billion in Italian banks, and $2.2 billion in Canadian banks to finance humanitarian relief and the reconstruction process.
While providing emergency aid remains the top priority, the international development community is beginning to think about how this money could be best used to facilitate Libya’s longer-term development. Just at the end of last week, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to deploy the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) which will lead the country’s sociopolitical and economic recovery. UNSMIL will also coordinate support that may be requested from other multilateral and bilateral actors.
Weeks ago, the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the U.N. agreed that elections, national reconciliation, and transitional justice should be the nation’s mid to longer-term focus areas. Progressing in all three areas will no doubt require considerable technical advice and assistance from global development organizations with experience in civil society, governance, justice, and rule of law.
Establishing institutions, rebuilding infrastructure, and boosting employment are other major cross-cutting development themes that will characterize Libya reconstruction and development over the course of the next decade. In light of debilitating sanctions imposed on the Gadhafi regime which crippled education and job training in the country, local expertise alone will not be able to meet these demands no matter how much money is available.
Although the African Union refuses to recognize Libya’s transitional council as the country’s legitimate leadership; 86 countries have acknowledged the NTC as Libya’s official governing body. Likewise, and perhaps more importantly, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank recognize the NTC as the country’s official government. This is important because approvals from the IMF and World Bank are typically interpreted by donors and investors alike as affirmation that a country is open for business. Given that Libya’s reconstruction requires long-term involvement, recognition of the NTC by the IMF and World Bank reassures would-be donors and investors of independent oversight, thereby minimizing investment risk. The World Bank has already agreed to head the restoration of vital services (water, energy, and transport), repair of damage infrastructure, develop job programs, and in partnership with the IMF, prepare the country’s budget and restore the banking sector.