In battle for Libya's oil, water becomes a casualty

While Libya's oil lies at the heart of three months of fighting over Tripoli and years of power struggles before that, water is becoming a far bigger concern for its people.

Crumbling water supply

Interruptions to water supplies are common after eight years of near-anarchy since Muammar Gaddafi was ousted, but a wider crisis is now coming to a head in a country made up mainly of arid desert and split between competing administrations. 

(Photograph:Reuters)

Clean drinking water

In western Libya, finding clean water has become difficult because both the power grid and water control system has been damaged in an offensive by forces loyal to eastern-based Khalifa Haftar on Tripoli, where the UN-backed government is based.

"Drinkable water is a daily issue for my family," said Usama Mohamed Dokali, a cashier in a cafe in Tripoli, who buys bottled water when he can and gets it from a charity when his money runs out. Other people fill bottles from wells and hope for the best. 

(Photograph:Reuters)

Badly damaged water system

The United Nations has warned all sides that water should not become a weapon of war, but the water system is already badly damaged in western Libya where the capital is located, according to unpublished reports by the water authority and the United Nations Children's' Agency.

Even local bottled water in a country which sits on Africa's biggest proven oil reserves have become contaminated.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Grave consequences

If the damage does not get fixed, there could be a "sudden, unexpected, uncontrollable and un-prepared for" shutdown of the main water pipeline system, the water authority said in a March presentation to international organisations seen by Reuters.

"The consequences will be catastrophic as there is no viable alternative water supply system," it said.

That warning of a possible systematic failure, echoed in a draft UNICEF report the same month, is the most dramatic sign of a collapse of state services in what was once one of North Africa's richest countries.
 

(Photograph:Reuters)

Rising demand

Across Libya, demand has risen to 7 billion cubic metres annually, up from 5.5 billion in 2011, as farmers and others have drilled wells or tapped reservoirs, Sunni said. By 2025, Libya will need 8 billion.

The draft UNICEF report, which has yet to be finalised, listed kidnapping of water workers and looting of equipment among many problems.

"Libya and Tripoli have been without water for many, many hours for two months...so how can children wash?" said Abdel-Rahman Ghandour, Libya Special Representative of UNICEF.

(Photograph:Reuters)

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