Deep south of Libya . It is a moonless night between July 31st and August 1st. A tanker loaded with fuel ends up off-road on the stretch of road between Ubari and Sebha, the two main oasis cities of Fezzan close to oil wells but poor in everything.
Libya is the country of paradoxes: it has the largest oil reservesof the whole of Africa, but is unable to guarantee electric light to its 6.87 million inhabitants. Dozens rush to steal the cargo left unattended on the side of the road, many with jerry cans to fill.
Something goes wrong, the tank catches fire and sets off a fire that immediately spreads to nearby cars. It is a massacre: the dead are at least 20, the wounded about a hundred and some have burns on more than 90 percent of the body.
Three cents per liter
Diesel in Libya costs 3 euro cents per liter, a derisory figure for us Italians who are used to paying more than 2 euro per liter. But it is a much more valuable commodity than its subsidized price: it serves to power the power generators, the only source of electricity when the plants are turned off.
And in the last period, due to the oil blockade due to the feud between east and west, they have remained off a lot, even 20 hours a day.
To power the turbines, a particular type of condensate gas or fuel is required. But with the wells closed, there are no resources.
A cartoon by the Libyan artist Mohammed Gajoum, which took inspiration from a real photograph, explains better than words the situation seen by the population: a father sitting on a barrel of oil holds his little son in his arms attached to the nebulizer, which is in turn powered by a power generator.
What is the use of sitting on a sea of oil if there is no electricity to even cure a child?
The shadow of smuggling
Fuel in Libya is a precious commodity in the summer, especially in the south. There are no refineries and gasoline comes from the north, often escorted by armed convoys. But the government is weak and the smuggling is profitable. Tanks hardly ever arrive in official warehouses.
They end up in the hands of criminal groups who resell them at a higher price or export them to neighboring countries. In Tunisia, gasoline costs 30 times more than in Libya: a single load of 20 or 30 thousand liters is enough to become rich.
Investigations on the tragedy of August 1st are still ongoing. The Nova Agency reportsthat the material cause of the explosion could have been the careless use of a car battery to operate the electric pump and suck the load: it would have been a spark that started the deadly fire.
It is not difficult to hypothesize a direct or indirect responsibility for the smuggling behind the massacre. But it is also the fault of the governments that have marginalized the south for years, leaving the population at the mercy of the traffickers.
The role of Italy
Some of the injured, badly burned, were transferred to Italy via a very complicated airlift. First of all because, as Nova always reports , the Libyans were late in providing the passports and medical records of the patients.
Tunisia and Spain also offered to help, but obviously Italy is the most requested destination and it was not easy to put all the information together. Secondly, some of the wounded destined for our hospitals died in the meantime, so the lists were updated while the C-130s were in flight or nearly so.
The premier of the national unity government, Abdulhamid Dbeibah, had announcedthat Italy would have treated 15 injured, the Ministry of Defense and Civil Protection have transferred four burned.
The Italian Council of Ministers has allocated 3 million euros to deal with a very, very delicate emergency, because it could be exploited during the election campaign.
Typical Report: There is no petrol or cooking gas shortage
Libya’s Tripoli-based Prime Minister, Abd Alhamid Aldabiba said that there are no fuel or cooking gas shortages. Aldabaiba was reacting to the long petrol queues at stations and long queues for gas cylinders at the cylinder depos.
Aldabaiba had arranged for various officials, including from Brega Marketing (the National Oil Corporation subsidiary responsible for importing, transporting and distributing fuels) and the Fuel Crisis Committee to speak at the cabinet meeting.
Aldabaiba asked them to give an update on the crisis and on his previous demands that petrol stations operate for 24 hours, that they install generators to circumvent power cuts and to install cameras.
Plenty of fuel and gas cylinders in stock
Brega and the Fuel Crisis Committee reported that there was no fuel shortage and that stocks were available.
They said the problem was power cuts, the high temperatures and the road closures caused by demonstrations that had prevent trucks delivering fuel to petrol stations.
They admitted that not all petrol stations had installed generators, security cameras nor opened for 24 hours. They agreed that they would double the number of petrol stations open for 24 hours.
They revealed that Tripoli usually consumes between 5 to 5.7 million litres of fuel per day and 30,000 gas cylinders are distributed per day. During the last few days 7 million litres of fuel were distributed each day. They explained that this is normal high demand during times of crisis or festivities.
It was explained that many fill their tanks up in anticipation that petrol stations will be closed or empty over the Eid festivities next weekend. Others react to the petrol queues by filling up even though they don’t plan to take long trips and their tanks are half full.
The main cause of delayed deliveries were the burning of tyres at road closures. Many truck drivers would not set off with full fuel tankers with fires at crossroads.
The officials admitted not all petrol stations had reacted to demands to install generators security cameras. They revealed that if they don’t by the set deadline of 17 July they may be closed. They insisted petrol queues will be over by Tuesday.
The main factor that would reduce the likelihood of fuel shortages would be for the NOC to build the new storage tanks – which GNU has approved.
Nevertheless, Aldabaiba said that poor management was also part of the problem as not all roads were closed by demonstrators all of the time and not all areas had demonstrators or road closures.