Libya needs food: The struggles of humanitarian aid

El Saharara oil field in Libya. Fire billows from a vent.

Libya's singular dependence on oil has made supplying food more difficult. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Javier Blas/Wikipedia)

As the crisis in Libya continues, the situation grows increasingly desperate for Libyans in need of humanitarian aid. According to Al Jazeera, convoys from the World Food Program with flour and other foodstuffs have been turned back by supporters of Col. Moammar Gadhafi, leaving the lives of more than 1 million civilian refugees in disarray. The United Nations and United States are currently developing strategies for Libya food delivery and other means to alleviate suffering.

Thousands of refugees will ‘invade Europe,’ Gadhafi says

Various reports from the front lines of clashes between anti-Gadhafi rebels and Gadhafi  loyalists indicate Gadhafi may be leaning toward compromise, yet Gadhafi’s public proclamations that he will fight insurrection until death have suggested otherwise. Gadhafi  has warned that if he falls, thousands of Libyan refugees will “invade Europe,” reports Reuters. Reportedly, tens of thousands have already fled into Tunisia, although that country is also politically unstable.

As hospitals in rebel-held cities like Misrata are drastically short of supplies – and rebel areas in general face food shortages – Gadhafi’s prediction that a massive wave of refugees will throw themselves upon the mercy of any country that can offer humanitarian aid may prove to be an accurate one. Military analyst Shanshank Joshi of Britain’s Royal United Services Institute told Reuters that the rebels do not have the upper hand, even though their fighting skills are “reasonably competent.”

“Government forces have more mobility than the rebels thanks to airlift and a decent amount of road transport,” said Joshi.

United Nations seeks to deliver aid to Libyan refugees

U.N. aid coordinator Valerie Amos knows that more than 1 million fleeing Libyans need humanitarian aid, and that number increases daily as skirmishes drive people from their homes. Rebel towns like Misrata, which was recently home to 300,000 people, are considered high-priority areas by the U.N.

“Humanitarian organizations need urgent access now,” said Amos. “People are injured and dying and need help immediately.”

After announcing the institution of a potential no-fly zone over Libya, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the U.S. has pledged $10 million to help Libyan refugees. Interested individual donors are being urged to contribute through the U.N. World Food Program.

Libya needs food and a diverse economy

Agriculture is difficult to sustain in Libya, writes Christopher Albon for The Atlantic, so the nation has to import much of its food. Considering that food prices have risen 50 to 75 percent in war torn areas of Libya, the panic of food shortage has set in. Albon suggests that the U.S. has both the capacity and infrastructure to supply rebel-controlled eastern Libya with food deliveries, via the major seaport of Benghazi. Such a move would be a meaningful policy option for President Obama and would avoid the burden of U.S. military engagement.


The Atlantic
Army Times

U.N. World Food Program

U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya (via Wikileaks)

Al Jazeera reports: Using food as a weapon in Libya

Other recent posts by bryanh