UNICEF acts to stave off potential water crisis caused by fuel shortages in Libya

Trucks carry one of the first shipments of bottled water to families and children in Libya
Trucks carry one of the first shipments of bottled water to families and children in Libya, who face potential shortages due to disruptions of the water system during the conflict there. UNICEF Image © UNICEF Libya/2011

As sporadic fighting continues across Libya, the country is facing a potentially disastrous water shortage. The crisis results mainly from disruptions of the pipeline network that serves desert areas lacking local water sources. Report yy Roshan Khadivi, BENGHAZI, Libya, 29 August 2011.

Known as the Great Man-made River, the network carries water from more than 1,300 deep wells in the Nubian sandstone aquifer system in the south. Normally, the pipelines provide 6.5 cubic metres of fresh water per day to Tripoli, Benghazi, Sirt and other areas.

Due to the emerging crisis in the capital, Tripoli, UNICEF is procuring a total of around 5 million litres of water from neighbouring countries to be trucked and shipped to the capital.

“UNICEF is responding to the immediate needs,” said UNICEF Libya Head of Office Christian Balslev-Olesen. “But we remain extremely concerned about the situation should the water flow to Tripoli stop in the coming days. This could turn into an unprecedented health epidemic.”

First shipments arrive

The first water shipment destined for Tripoli – a total of 23,000 bottles for emergency use – arrived on 27 August. The delivery entailed close coordination with the World Food Programme in order to locate a vessel and ensure immediate relief for the worst-affected population.

A UNICEF vehicle and aid workers at a water-treatment plant in Derna, Libya
A UNICEF vehicle and aid workers at a water-treatment plant in Derna, Libya. UNICEF has procured treatment chemicals for five such plants in eastern Libya recently. UNICEF Image © UNICEF Libya/2011/Mills

An additional 90,000 litres of bottled water on a vessel from the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as 100,000 litres transported in trucks from Tunisia, arrived yesterday.

A UNICEF emergency team is now in Tripoli, working with local authorities to review options and identify alternative water sources. As the lead agency for water, sanitation and hygiene in the Libyan crisis response, UNICEF is coordinating operations with other UN agencies and partners.

Fuel shortages affect water supply

Since the beginning of the conflict in Libya, power cuts and fuel shortages have put the Great Man-made River Authority, the primary distributor of potable water, at risk of failing to meet the needs of the country’s almost 6 million people.

View of a water desalination plant serving eastern Libya
View of a water desalination plant serving eastern Libya. Fuel shortages now threaten the continued operation of desalination and treatment plants. UNICEF Image © Benghazi Water Authority

Water reservoir pumps and desalination plants require dependable sources of electrical power to ensure continued water delivery. Due to shortages of fuel, however, the system is operating well under full capacity.

Throughout the conflict, UNICEF has provided chemicals to support the operation of desalination systems in the short term. However, a long-term solution to fuel availability is urgently needed to maintain the water supply and prevent an even greater humanitarian crisis.

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