By Emadeddin Z. Muntasser
Open Letter to International Organizations Regarding Impending Water Crisis in Libya.
His Excellency António Guterres, Secretary General United Nations.
Libya’s Man Made River (MMR), the primary fresh water supply to Libya’s densely populated north, is under attack. The MMR produces and transports water from southern aquifers such as the Kufra, Murzuk, and Hamadah basins to north east and north west Libya by an underground network of constructed pipes.
There are four main regional well fields: Jaghboub, Kufra, Jabal Hasouna, and Ghadames. The network of underground pipes connects wells, reservoirs and pumping stations that serve 80% of the agricultural and municipal water needs for Libyans. The MMR is clearly integral to the livelihood and security of Libya as it is the only reliable and major source of water to over 6 million inhabitants.
Recently, documented evidence of vandalism and destruction of wells and pumping stations was brought forward to the Democracy and Human Rights Foundation (DHRF) by concerned MMR engineers. Their reports indicate that over 97 out of 250 operable wells in the Hasouna region have been destroyed thus far.
The Hasouna network, including these destroyed wells, is the primary source of water to Libya’s most populated region encompassing Ash Shwayrif in the south to Misrata and Tripoli in the north and ending in the Western Mountain region.
This devastating development is critical as these cities make up almost 67% of the Libyan population.
There has not been a single formal investigation as to the culprits or their motives. Employees of the MRR, who have recently been prevented from speaking publicly about these catastrophic events, point to political and economic reasons for the vandalism and destruction.
There are certain political groups in Libya that strive to validate their opposition to the 2011 revolution and the support offered to it by Western nations by creating conditions of lawlessness and hardship.
Secondly, scrap metal dealers are attracted to the extensive apparatus of high voltage transformers, pumps, and cables that contain large amounts of copper. This copper is sold as scrap to sub-Saharan Africa as well as exported through Libya’s northern ports.
In many cases, the political and economic interests intersect whereby scrap dealers are encouraged and protected by the armed members of these political groups.
The MMR headquarters in Benghazi has been under pressure from local political and militia forces to remain silent. Two weeks ago, the MMR leadership started to crackdown on whistleblowers in an attempt to control information about vandalism, especially on social media.
The extent of the problem in eastern Libya remains vague as the region is under the tight grip of armed militia.
Previous attempts by employees of the MMR in western Libya to enlist the help of the UNSMIL and the Government of National Accord (GNA) have fallen on deaf ears. This crisis is being ignored.
Continued destruction and vandalism will pose a great danger as water to the densely populated western Libya region may be cut off for weeks or months as opposed to the short (but frequent) periods of water outages that currently plague Libya’s north.
The destruction will lead to human, agricultural, and environmental disasters as well as insecurity, instability, and economic paralysis.
The Democracy and Human Rights Foundation hereby requests that the international community takes steps to protect Libya’s fragile water resources. Specifically, I call upon the United Nations, the US government, the EU, and International Criminal Court (ICC) to take the following urgent steps:
1- Pursue saboteurs with international sanctions and ICC action. On October 10th 2017 and on November 29th 2017, DHRF submitted to the ICC complaints against individuals who vandalized MMR control and pumping stations.
The complaint contained video evidence, photographs, and names of the saboteurs. The ICC did not appear to take action. If the ICC can bring cultural vandals such as Ahmad Al Mahdi to justice, then the ICC should bring precious water resource vandals to justice.
2- Until security is restored to Libya, the United Nations and European Union must make it illegal to buy Libyan scrap metal exports. This seemingly benign export activity is actually a large criminal enterprise that depends on the theft of high voltage power lines, power towers, water well transformers and controls, oil filled supplies and infrastructure, as well as other public resources including government-owned machinery and equipment. The international export lines, especially through the Mediterranean, are well-known and could easily be brought to a halt.
3- Expose military and political leaders who provide cover for the saboteurs or are engaged in the sale of copper and scrap metal.
4- Require the UNSMIL and the GNA to initiate dialogue with tribal leaders in the Ash Shwayrif, Brak Shati, and Geera regions. According to MMR employees, these tribal leaders can easily identify the ring leaders and smugglers.
The force of international law must be brought to bear on such tribal leaders who provide cover for the vandals or saboteurs. These pressures should be coupled with incentives for cooperation.
5- Provide recognition and support for the 168th battalion which has recently taken on the responsibility of protecting the MMR infrastructure. Without such support this well-meaning group might be targeted by other armed militias or become infiltrated by criminal elements.
6- Assist the central government and municipalities in developing water outage emergency plans.
Your immediate attention to this crisis in the making will help stop further sabotage of water wells and will provide the MMR with the required protection to initiate repair of damaged wells and pumping stations.
The cost of inaction will be human suffering, long-term damage to agriculture and livestock as well as increased political instability. This is a crime in progress. Time is of the essence.
Emadeddin Z. Muntasser, President Democracy and Human Rights Foundation
Office of Maghreb Affairs, U.S. Department of State
The Honorable James E. Risch, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
The Honorable Ed Royce, Chairman, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee
H.E. Federica Mogherini, E.U. High Representative for Foreign Affairs
Ms. Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor, International Criminal Court
Ambassador Olof Skoog, United Nations Libya Sanctions Committee
Mr. Torgny Holmgren, Exec. Director, Stockholm International Water Institute
Mr. Gilbert F. Houngbo, Chairman, United Nations-Water
Mr. James A. Harmon, Co-Chair, World Resources Institute
Mr. Loïc Fauchon, President, World Water Council
Ms. Hanan Salah, Human Rights Watch
Ms. Marwa Mohamed, Amnesty International