Libya

Situation Report

Highlights

  • Continued shelling and clashes, along with electricity and water shortage take a heavy toll on the most vulnerable
  • Food insecurity is increasing - instability and COVID-19 restrictions are significantly impacting food access, food availability, food utilization and stability.
  • COVID-19 has impact many people's livelihoods, particularly those engaged in daily labour or informal economy, particularly migrants and refugees, stretching coping capacity.
  • Humanitarian access continues to be a challenge with an 18.5 per cent increase in reported incidents in April, compared to March.
IOM designed special food basket for migrants affected by COVID-19 related restrictions in urban areas. (Majdi El Nakua/IOM Libya)
IOM designed special food basket for migrants affected by COVID-19 related restrictions in urban areas. (Majdi El Nakua/IOM Libya)

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Libya

Situation Report

Key Figures

1M
People in need
0.3M
People targeted
374k
People displaced in Libya
654k
Migrants and refugees in Libya
170k
People reached

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Funding

$129.8M
Required
$63.9M
Received
49%
Progress
FTS

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Contacts

Kasper Engborg

Head of Office a.i.

Jennifer Bose Ratka

Public Information Officer

Libya

Situation Report
Background

Situation update - May

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and continued calls for a truce, there has been no stop to the fighting in Libya – rather it has continued to escalate, having terrible consequences for many people.

More than 374,000 people remain displaced across Libya, with around 7,000 people fleeing their homes in April 2020 due to escalating conflict in and around Tripoli. Indiscriminate shelling continues wreak havoc on the health system and causing further death and destruction. In addition to continuing clashes, heatwaves, and water and electricity cuts have exacerbated the difficult living conditions for many people.

In mid-May power cuts were experienced across the West, which also affected many wells and fields of the Man Made River Project. Water supplies were further interrupted by continued incidents of intentional interfering with water infrastructure by armed groups. This resulted in regular disruption to water supplies in the West and South regions, in some cases amid daily temperatures of 40 degrees.

Between 1 January and 21 May 2020, UNSMIL documented preliminary figure of 344 civilian casualties (114 deaths and 230 injuries). The victims include 234 men (83 deaths and 151 injuries), 50 women (15 deaths and 35 injuries), 48 boys (11 deaths and 37 injuries) and 12 girls (five deaths and seven injuries). In a particularly concerning incident, on 16 May, shelling struck a shelter hosting around 1,200 displaced people and migrants in Tripoli's al-Furnaj district, killing at least seven people and injuring 17 others.

There have been 20 attacks (direct and indirect) on health workers, ambulances and facilities recorded this year – in clear violation of International Humanitarian Law. At least 13 incidents were recorded in April and May alone, with the majority in the West. On 14 May, the Central Tripoli Hospital, one of the city’s largest health facilities was damaged by shelling and al-Khadra Hospital was one of the assigned health facilities to receive patients infected with COVID-19. But attacks are not isolated to the West. On 10 May, an armed group opened fire inside the intensive care unit in al-Jalla hospital in Benghazi, damaging equipment.

Amid continued insecurity and COVID-19, safeguarding people's lives, respecting and protecting their human rights, and ensuring their wellbeing has often been disregarded. The risks faced by refugees and migrants in Libya was further highlighted by the killing 30 migrants and injury of 11 others and a smuggling centre in Mezda, near Gharyan, southwest of Tripoli.

In Libya, the continued arbitrary detention of thousands of migrants and refugees in both formal centres and informal smuggler sites is a critical concern. There are more than 654,000 migrants and refugees in Libya; many who face arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, forced labour, extortion and exploitation. Human trafficking and smuggling constitute a grave violation of international human rights law and those responsible held accountable.

The impact of COVID-19 has also had an increasingly negative impact on people’s livelihoods and their ability to meet their basic needs and access essential services. A significant contributing factor to people’s ability to meet their needs has been access to livelihoods, which have been severely affected by movement restrictions and curfews implemented to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix COVID-19 mobility tracking report from 16 May 2020 found that in 93 per cent of the municipalities assessed in the last two weeks of April 2020, casual labour opportunities for migrants had significantly reduced due to the movement restrictions and a slowdown in economic activity.

In the same survey, 24 per cent of migrants reported being unemployed during April 2020, an increase of 7 per cent over Jan-Feb 2020. The situation was also bleak for many Libyans, with 56 per cent of assessed location residents, including IDPs and host community members depending on daily wages, reportedly affected by the loss of employment opportunities.

Access to livelihoods is critical – many displaced and low income families, as well as migrants and refugees living in urban communities who are living in precarious housing arrangements. Without access to livelihoods, and the ongoing liquidity crisis many are unable to cover their rent and are therefore are at increasing risk of eviction.

The humanitarian community continues to provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable populations who have been impacted by COVID-19 or ongoing insecurity. This includes people who have been displaced, women and children, as well as migrants and refugees.

Between January and March 2020, UN agencies, international and national NGOs have reached more than 170,000 people across the country with some form of humanitarian assistance.

This includes 80,000 people who received unconditional food assistance through either in-kind or cash-based transfers and nearly 23,000 people received non-food items (NFIs) such as hygiene kits, mattresses, jerry cans and clothing. More than 13,200 people received specialized protection services, such as general protection, gender-based violence and child protection services, and including psycho-social support. Health sector partners enabled access to health services through more than 36,200 medical procedures. Additionally, basic WASH facilities in schools and health centres continued to be supported, reaching over 19,000 people.

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Analysis
Rapid Response Mechanism distribution near Garabolli, Tripoli for 1,600 displaced people from Tarhuna clashes (WFP)
Rapid Response Mechanism distribution near Garabolli, Tripoli for 1,600 displaced people from Tarhuna clashes (WFP)

Insecurity on the rise: As food needs spike, continued assistance is even more vital

Food security in Libya

At the start of 2020, food insecurity in Libya was relatively low (at 5 per cent). Food security exists when all people have regular physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Despite this, approximately 69 per cent of Libyans are still considered “marginally food secure”. This means they have low levels of resilience in case of a shock and thus could easily become food insecure.

Around 64 per cent of Libyan households and 78 per cent of migrant and refugee households currently employ negative coping strategies in order to afford food. This includes relying on less expensive food, reducing the number or size of meals per day, withdrawing children from schools, or selling assets. On average, 47 per cent of Libyan and 31 per cent of migrant and refugee household expenses go towards food.

Libya, as an 'upper middle-income economy' with substantial oil revenues and a relatively small population, has been able to provide extensive social security support through subsidies for fuel, food, housing and education. However, increasing low consumer confidence in the banking sector and the economy as a whole has driven a severe liquidity shortage, impacting many people’s well-being and livelihoods.

Furthermore, as Libya is a country that almost exclusively relies on food imports to meet the needs of its domestic market, it has been significantly impacted by the COVID pandemic.   

The impact of conflict and COVID-19

Libya is extremely vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 and is identified as one of the 27 countries “most vulnerable to emerging outbreaks of illness" in the Global Health Security (GHS) Index Report, published in March 2020.

Libyan authorities, like many countries, have implemented public health restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, closing air, land and sea borders, imposing curfews and social distancing measures. Continuous fighting and instability across the country, along with the COVID-19 restrictions, have had a significant negative impact on all components of food security: food access, food availability, food utilization and stability.

According to the April Joint Market Monitoring Initiative (JMMI) report, food prices have significantly increased across most provinces. The food component of the Minimum Expenditure Basket (MEB) has risen by an average of 26.6 per cent since the imposition of COVID-19 restrictions.

In the South, this has increased by as much as 42.6 per cent. As most vulnerable households depend on local markets, they are highly susceptible to rising food prices. Prices are also being inflated by traders reducing the amount of certain foods in markets, storing supplies to sell later at higher prices when food is scarcer. As such, many areas are reporting food availability problems.

In addition to COVID-related border closures and import restrictions, movement of food supplies has been disrupted among the three regions due to conflict, as well as government movement controls and militia checkpoints.

Many agencies report challenges related to access, especially negotiating checkpoints when carrying supplies en route. Some checkpoints are managed by local militias who do not have clear lines of command. Obtaining official authorizations continues to require significant time and coordination which delays food distributions. Continued conflict in the main agricultural areas in Libya has also had a negative impact on agricultural activities and affected the availability of inputs. Curfews and movement restrictions from COVID-19, along with disrupted supply chains, have further impacted the agriculture sector and farming households.

Many cannot afford to continue under these constraints, pushing more households to abandon agricultural activities - further reducing medium- and long-term food availability. Simplified, broken supply chains mean price spikes and lack of food availability, which subsequently equals more people who cannot afford food.

With reduced domestic production, lower imports and increased food prices, previously food secure populations are becoming increasingly more insecure. This is a worrying trend given the already high proportion of Libyans (69 per cent) that are “marginally food secure” and who are likely using both food and livelihood coping mechanisms to mitigate inadequate food consumption, such as selling their land or homes or engaging in illegal or degrading work. While these strategies may be reversible, prolonged insecurity coupled with an economic downturn brought by COVID-19 could further erode household resilience.

Internally displaced people (IDPs), migrants and refugees are some of the most vulnerable and impacted by COVID-19, mainly because of their employment being largely reliant on day labour, and have therefore lost their revenue sources. Additionally, their overall health situation is usually already weak and often they cannot access health services and lack access to social safety nets and support systems.

According to WFP’s latest mVAM report conducted in April-May 2020, almost 55 per cent of IDP households were unable to reach their workplace, which increases the vulnerability of these households.

According to IOM’s emergency food security assessment for migrants, conducted in April 2020, 70 per cent of migrants rely on casual day labour. Moreover, 32 per cent of migrants are estimated to be food insecure and in urgent need of assistance, a sharp increase from 18 per cent estimated at the start of the year. This situation poses the risk of pushing vulnerable migrants to more frequently use negative coping mechanisms for survival.

As a result of the current insecurity and socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 across the country, many Libyans, migrants and refugees are now living on their edge of their capacity to cope and are sacrificing their well-being and their dignity in order to feed themselves and their families.

As a result, humanitarian organizations have been receiving a higher number of requests for food assistance from national authorities, local municipalities and local leaders –estimated at more than 100,000 people since March 2020.

Humanitarian response

Food Security Sector partners are working to reach the most vulnerable and most severely impacted IDPs, host communities, migrants and refugees. To do this, they are adjusting their programming to implement precautionary measures for all interventions at all phases and scaling up their interventions in order to meet the need.

However, lack of confirmed funding is impacting the ability of many organizations to respond these new requests for assistance. As a result, organizations have had to prioritize resources to provide unconditional food assistance – both in-kind and cash – to the most vulnerable populations, newly displaced people and migrants in urban settings, over longer-term livelihood interventions. Organizations are also working together to find more effective and innovative approaches to address food needs during this crisis.

There is no question whether food insecurity exists in Libya; the question now is how we can rise to the challenge to address it. Continued humanitarian support to address food insecurity across the country is essential, now more than ever, to ensure that this global health crisis does not also become a food crisis.

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Food security in Libya

Food Security

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Migrants and refugees shares experiences living in Libya during COVID-19

“We cannot go back to our countries because of war, but we can’t find our way here either,” says Siddiq, a Sudanese refugee from Darfur living in the old town of Tripoli. “In normal circumstances I would look for work and enroll in school, but currently, even our Libyan neighbours are more and more desperate about the worsening situation in their country.”

With deteriorating security conditions, COVID-related movement restrictions, and a sharp increase in food and basic commodity prices, migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya have become more vulnerable than ever.

Many who were previously able to support themselves through daily labour, are now dependent on aid due to curfews and other restrictions. Even before COVID-19, some said they could only afford to eat one meal a day, while many others are facing eviction threats from their landlords as they have fallen behind with rental payments as a consequence of losing their jobs.

"In this time our main problem is a financial problem, we don't have anyone to transfer money for us or support us any other way. My husband used to work but he is no more working due to the COVID issues; my children are hungry”, says Semira, an Eritrean refugee living near Tripoli. “We used to pay 300 Libyan Dinars (about USD$211) for house rent and now we don't have money to pay the house rent…...God knows what may happen."

The downturn in economic activities due to COVID-19 has affected the job market for migrants in Libya. Many of those who are oftentimes employed in construction and the farming sectors have lost their source of income and are now on the verge of slipping into hunger if they don’t receive critical food supplies.

Mohammed Abdul Hafiz, a 45-year-old migrant from Bangladesh experienced this first-hand. “I traveled a very long way to reach Libya, looking for a living wage and a chance to do what I love to do, installing ceramic floor tiles. The working conditions were very good until this pandemic put everything on hold. Since then, my life has changed tremendously as I had to stay home and stop working for the first two months [March and April]”, he says. 

According to a new assessment by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 32 per cent of migrants surveyed in April reported inadequate food consumption, 52 per cent of migrants who normally seek work on a daily basis reported difficulty in finding work recently, and 71 per cent of them living in informal settings reported being highly food insecure. In western Libya, food insecurity was most acute among migrants in urban settings in and around Tripoli region.

Sudanese asylum-seeker Fatima lost her husband years ago when the couple was living in the city of Sirt. During the siege of the city in 2016, she lost her leg when a bomb fell on her house. Now, in Tripoli, she lives with her 5 years-old son and occasionally receives help from friends. “When I first arrived in Tripoli, I had no means to sustain myself,” said Fatima. “I was blessed that my Libyan neighbours and the local mosque managed to secure accommodation for me, and for the last two years, they have been helping me regularly with the rent and with food for me and my son”.

With prices for hygiene items having gone up by at least 60 per cent, and prices for gloves and masks having more than tripled, a major concern is for refugees and asylum-seekers taking all necessary COVID-19 preventive measures required.

“I have four children and my sister and mother also live with me”, says Aisha Mohamed, a 45-year-old migrant from Mali. “Since the coronavirus broke out in Tripoli, we have been unable to get a job, most families are afraid of even letting us in their places. We are grateful that you remembered us during this trying time.”

UN agencies, such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and IOM, along with other humanitarian organizations have reached over 20,000 migrants and refugees in 2020, including with food baskets, ready-to-eat food rations, hygiene kits and water purification tablets. Separate distributions have also been carried out to provide assistance to more than 700 refugees held in detention, as well as for displaced Libyans, single-headed households, and migrants who have lost their employment due to the curfew. The distributions supported some of the most vulnerable people with help during Ramadan – an important moment to show solidarity as people are struggling with their daily needs.

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Ramadan aid distributions amid food shortages and price surges (Mohamed Alalam/UNHCR)

Ramadan aid distributions amid food shortages and price surges. (Caroline Gluck UNHCR)

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Feature
Type of calls (source: ETS)
Type of calls (source: ETS)

Accountability to affected people in the time of COVID-19

Throughout the month of Ramadan, Wedad Talha, supervisor of the Emergency Telecommunication Sector (ETS)-managed call centre in Tripoli supporting Libya’s response to COVID-19, has found herself working the iftar shift. After a day of fasting the thought of starting work and having to manage stressful situations is not ideal yet this window between 4pm and 9pm is when most calls are received. And Wedad needs to be on hand to answer them.

“It’s hard as you can’t really take a break as it’s an emergency so I just try and break my fast quickly…[but] we are working for people who need your help. When they are really in need and we can solve the problem, that makes me feel very happy,” explains 23-year-old Wedad who joined ETS’ local partner as an intern just last year.

Systematic information sharing, and diverse and inclusive participation that ensures people’s voices inform decision making, has traditionally been limited in Libya, with remote and semi-remote management of humanitarian operations impacting engagement. However, in February 2020, a Common Feedback Mechanism (CFM), through the national call centre in Tripoli, was established. Managed by the ETS, the call centre reflected the humanitarian community’s commitment to ensuring humanitarian action was accountable to communities they served, and that mechanisms were in place to improve transparency and allow people to shape the assistance they received.

Initially established as a two-way communication platform between humanitarian responders and affected communities, the centre now also operates as an official coronavirus hotline, at the request of the country’s National Centre for Disease Control. Since then, the lines have been flooded with calls.

“In the first two weeks of the outbreak in Libya, people panicked a lot and we were receiving a call every 11 seconds. It was a lot of pressure. They didn’t understand what the virus was exactly or transmission methods so there were a lot of questions about how to prevent [the spread] and how to self-isolate,” says Wedad. “Most hospitals had closed and weren’t accepting any patients as they were afraid of the virus. So when people called asking what hospitals were available, we did our own research and often managed to connect them with doctors who were providing consultations online,” she explains.

Like many other cities around the world, strict lockdown measures were tough and working from home was often made harder by the lack of electricity and water. “We couldn’t get internet or phone coverage at the call centre so we were struggling with that,” Wedad explains. Now, all operators have their mobile phones connected to the system from home so they can continue to operate 24 hours a day.

Calls from people in urgent need of assistance also continued to come in, many upsetting. “A couple of weeks ago I received a call from lady who had just lost her husband and has been displaced from her house because of the war. She told me if she didn’t need humanitarian assistance she wouldn’t call as she used to have everything I needed. There was a lot of crying which really affected me,” says Wedad. “I was able to refer her to the relevant agency to register for assistance but also felt an affinity with her as I also couldn’t live in my house for the same reason. We are all in the same boat.”

Gratitude from callers is also received, something that inspires and drives operators to continue their work. “People who managed to call to register for assistance often call back to thank us. For COVID, especially in the early days, we received a lot of potential cases and collaborated with the NCDC in Tripoli to refer all cases and we followed up by calling every two days to check up on the patient,” explains Wedad.

There is renewed hope that the situation will ease in the coming weeks. “People like to talk and in Libya, people like to talk a lot so the provision of the call centre lets them talk freely about their problems and things they need. We help them by listening, supporting and comforting them. When they call they are panicking and asking about COVID or for assistance and so being there for someone in their distress is a privilege,” Wedad says.

Since its establishment in February 2020, the CFM call centre has received more than 14,000 calls. While limited in the first days, given limited awareness raising to allow systems to be tested, calls sharply increased at the end of March when it became Libya’s COVID-19 hotline – going from 50 calls between 16-21 March to nearly 3,700 calls the next week.

The majority of calls (95 per cent) answered have been COVID-related, with people requesting information, such as what the pandemic is, how to protect themselves and what to do if someone has symptoms. Of those callers reporting symptoms (around 18 per cent of all answered calls), those that reported COVID-related symptoms were referred to the NCDC for follow up. In the last month, callers seeking information has reduced which may point to increased availability of information through other platforms, such as social media and television.

Geographically, most calls (around 87 per cent) have come from the western region of Libya. This may in part be due to the emergence of the pandemic in Tripoli and to the greater presence of international humanitarian partners operating in the region, who have been providing awareness materials along with distributions that advertise the call centre number. Of all calls received at the call centre, women account for only one third of all callers, reinforcing the need to find ways to make these types of feedback mechanisms accessible to all segments of the population in Libya. 

While the number of non-COVID-19 calls has remained relatively small, since mid-April the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic has caused an increase in these calls. Since 12 April, the majority of these calls have been in relation to food as well as cash (31 and 34 per cent respectively).

CFM continues to improve its reporting tools in order to improve analysis and enable a better understanding of the needs on the ground in order to support better informed programming decisions for the humanitarian community. The impact of curfews and movement restrictions because of COVID-19 mean operators have been working from home, but there is another challenge: funding is urgently required, as the limited numbers of operators have struggled during the busiest call periods (afternoon and evenings), meaning not all calls received are able to be answered. With the needed funding, the CFM can expand its operator base and ensure there is always someone there to pick up the phone when information is needed.

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CFM: Calls per week (16 February - 31 May 2020) (source: ETS)

CFM Total Calls per week

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Analysis
Reported incidents of access constraints (source: OCHA)
Reported incidents of access constraints (source: OCHA)

Humanitarian access in Libya

With the global impact of COVID-19 affecting global transportation, availability and prices of supplies and air travel, in addition to local movement restrictions and curfews, has made maintaining and ramping up humanitarian response in Libya all the more challenging. 

For the month of April, humanitarian partners reported a total of 1,009 incidents of access constraints. This marks an increase of about 158 incidents – an 18.5 per cent increase – compared to March 2020. The increase can be attributed to the worsening situation of the COVID-19 outbreak at the global level and its impacts across Libya. It can also be attributed to a more robust access monitoring system that has been put in place in Libya.

Of all reported incidents in April, 67 per cent were directly or indirectly related to the COVID-19 precautionary measures. Commonly reported constraints were in relation to limited flights into the country which significantly limited staff rotations and transport of humanitarian supplies, movement restrictions and curfews that limited movements (particularly between municipalities) and negotiation for specific permissions to enable continuation of operations.

The two most commonly reported constraints were in relation to restrictions on the movements of humanitarian personnel and/or humanitarian goods either into Libya or within the country. These constraints represented 90 per cent of all incidents reported in April. Although there were more incidents reported in relation to bringing personnel and/or goods into Libya (65 per cent), compared with moving personnel and/or goods around the country (26 per cent).

In addition to constraints related to the movement of humanitarian personnel and supplies, other reported incidents included constraints related to insecurity (5 per cent), environmental factors, such as electricity outages or fuel shortages (3 per cent), violence against humanitarian personnel, facilities or assets (0.9 per cent) and restrictions/obstruction to affected populations’ access to services (0.1 per cent).

Geographically, half of all reported incidents were in the West and one third in the East. The smaller number of reported constraints in the South (17 per cent of total reported constraints) is largely due to limited presence of humanitarian partners in that region. At the mantika level, Benghazi (15 per cent) and Tripoli (10 per cent) reported the highest number of reported incidents.

The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) in Libya continues to work with the authorities at all levels to facilitate humanitarian access. As part of this effort, access reporting continues to be strengthened and the HCT is developing an access strategy – both which will inform a more strategic and collective approaches to addressing or mitigating access constraints in order for the humanitarian community to continue to reach people in need.

Further analysis on access constraints in Libya for April is provided in OCHA’s Access Report.

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