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UN agencies warn COVID-19 and conflict threaten life in Libya

13 May 2020

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Women and children continue to bear the brunt of the ongoing conflict. Credit: OCHA/Giles Clarke

OCHA and several UN agencies have warned that the “health and safety” of Libya’s entire population is “at risk”. In a joint statement, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, and the heads of six UN agencies said. “Conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic present a significant threat to life in Libya.”

They urged the international community “must not turn a blind eye” to the conflict in Libya and its catastrophic effect on civilians, including migrants and refugees, across the country.

Nearly 400,000 Libyans have been displaced since the start of the conflict nine years ago – around half of them within the past year, since the attack on the capital, Tripoli, started.

The statement expressed support for Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire and a humanitarian pause to save lives and enable the Libyan authorities and their partners to devote their energies to stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Women and children continue to bear the brunt of the ongoing armed conflict in Libya. Over the past year, the United Nations verified 113 cases of grave violations, including killing and maiming of children, attacks on schools, and health facilities. Hospitals and health facilities have been targeted by shelling, further disrupting Libya’s fragile health system. Since the beginning of the year, at least 15 attacks have damaged health facilities and ambulances and injured health-care workers.

The statement said these attacks “are a blatant violation of international humanitarian law and even more egregious during the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Aid work challenges

 Humanitarian workers face significant challenges every day to carry on with their mission. In March 2020, humanitarian partners reported a total of 851 access constraints on movement of humanitarian personnel and humanitarian items within and into Libya.

Despite the constraints humanitarian partners are delivering urgent assistance to people in need, reaching more than 138,000 people so far in 2020. Humanitarian partners urgently require a boost in funding. The 2020 Libya Humanitarian Response Plan requires US$130 million, including the Health Sector COVID-19 response plan of $15 million. The HRP is just 12 per cent funded, five months into the year.