By Nikkon Balial

Suffering from war, a weak economy and a nearly non-existent healthcare system, how can Libya fight a pandemic?

In response to the impending threat from Covid-19, a truce was put in place and accepted by both sides of the Libyan conflict on 22 March, under the auspices of several countries and the UN.

However, both the GNA (Government of National Accord) and LNA (Libyan National Army) have subsequently accused each other of violating this agreement.

With the Libyan crisis reaching its ninth year in 2020, the country has already been suffering from a weak economy and a nearly non-existent healthcare system.

With its steadily deteriorating condition, it is unlikely for Libya to overcome the deadly crisis of COVID-19 which has confronted the world today.

Despite the GNA announcing a series of lockdowns and other restrictive measures after the first case of COVID-19 was detected in the country on 25 March, the cases have been on the rise.

Coronavirus cases in Libya has jumped up to 26 according to statistics reports as of 14 April 2020. In such a situation of continued turmoil and uncertainty, a holistic plan of action from the government involving the people is of absolute necessity.

A two-step process should be put in place to ensure relief access for the people at risk. The GNA has the mammoth task of preparing for the crisis and also for its aftermath.

The only way it can successfully do so is by not just acting unanimously but by cooperating and supporting local initiatives.

After the toppling of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011, Libya has been in a situation of constant conflict. The escalation of hostilities has increased political instability alongside social, economic and medical vulnerabilities.

The turmoil that initially began in Benghazi and Tripoli, has now spread into the various cleavages of the country, leading the entire population in a constant state of flux.

With two rival governments constantly fighting to take control of the country, there has been a stagnation of economic or health advancements, which is now needed more than ever, amidst this global pandemic.

Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army is in eastern Libya, and supported by Egypt and the UAE, while the GNA in Tripoli enjoys UN and international recognition.

Libya’s legitimate government has been under attack by Haftar’s forces since April 2019, which has led to more than 1,000 people being killed in the violence. Amidst this violence and conflict, the COVID-19 crisis only makes circumstances worse.

Ahmed al-Hassi, the spokesman for the Haftar’s Coronavirus Epidemic Advisory Medical Committee said earlier in the week that regardless of the number of beds and intensive care rooms that have been prepared, Libya would be unable to cope” with an epidemic due to its “limited capabilities”.

The situation rested in a vulnerable spectrum as the first case of coronavirus was reported in Libya on 25 March 2020 fortunately later than most other countries in Europe and Africa.

The virus arrived rather late to Libya, with people under the impression that they were shielded from the virus because land and air routes were anyway blocked due to war.

Migrants who are stuck in detention centers now are facing the highest of risks. They not only fear being infected by the disease but are also anxious about not receiving adequate treatment when they really need it. 

Human Rights Watch suggested that one measure Libyan authorities must implement is to reduce the number of people in detention by releasing people unjustly or arbitrarily detained.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Libya on the other hand, has already raised concerns over the situation in Libya. In terms of providing relief, a report published by UNHCR as of 3 April 2020 shows that 355,672 Libyans are still internally displaced.

Hence, despite international organizations working tirelessly to provide relief for asylum seekers and forcibly displaced people, the vulnerable conditions of conflict provide increased challenges for the local population across Libya.

Alongside governmental policies and UN assistance, the local initiatives in Libya are working tirelessly to provide masks, medical supplies and relief as well.

 Hala Bugaighis talks about two such initiatives, Made N Libya and Fashion House, by highlighting their unparalleled contribution in times of this grave crisis.

Fashion House is run by two young businesswomen Najwa Al Shokri and Fardos Gassia who have stopped the production of fancy dresses at their shop Fashion House and transformed their workshop to produce medical protection suits to support in this vulnerable time.

We started producing garments with local fabrics for the Al-Galaa Hospital first” says Najwa Al Shokri during an online interview. She is now aiming to increase the production rate even further so that her company is able to provide similar garments for other medical centers as well.

Fashion House takes the help of several local initiatives and businesses to gather raw materials for production. Thus, on 28 March, they delivered their first set of garments to doctors at evacuation hospitals.

Made N Libya on the other hand, has already created a platform for donations and crowdfunding to support their projects during the COVID-19 crisis:

We are producing masks, ventilator maintenance facilities in hospitals and also are about to conduct alcoholic spraying in public places” states Suliman Scandrani, the Head of Marketing for Abath enterprise, the mother company of Made N Libya initiative during an online interview.

Such local efforts give the strongest sources of inspiration amidst a crisis that no one in the world knows how to solve. Cooperating with such efforts can only lead to bolstering of relief measures.

Peaceful countries, suffering from neither crisis nor civil wars have been struggling to fight the pandemic. In Libya, where people have been suffering for years, the situation is much more stressful.

Now with curfew hours declared and restriction imposed on physical movements, the already dwindling healthcare services are at a minimum.

The health systems are functioning in limited capacities with patients being examined by appointments only. The movement restrictions have further disrupted the supply chains of medical supplies and personnel from the UN.

The only way Libya can save itself from this pandemic with its level of medical preparation is through awareness and co-operation with local initiatives.

With inflation rates soaring high, lack of basic public necessities and the dismal condition of the economy, Libya may not be prepared to handle even a minimal spread of the virus.

The only option left for the country to save its people is by increasing cooperation with local projects and preparing a more holistic structure.


Nikkon Balial is a master’s student of International Relations in Central European University. She has previously written for The Geopolitics and is deeply interested in foreign affairs, conflict and policy analysis. She has previously worked at think tanks and NGOs in India and in New York. 


Open Democracy

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