Libyans dig for water in latest test for capital Tripoli's residents

Published 27.10.2017 22:56
Updated 28.10.2017 11:26
Workers dig a water well in Tripoli, Libya October 25, 2017 (Reuters Photo)
Workers dig a water well in Tripoli, Libya October 25, 2017 (Reuters Photo)

Across Libya's capital residents have started drilling through pavements to access wells in a desperate search for water after the taps ran dry in a new low for living conditions.

After years of neglect, workers turned off the water to do urgent maintenance earlier this month, cutting supplies to many Tripoli households. Then an armed group sabotaged the system, prolonging the misery.

The water crisis is a powerful symbol of state failure in a country that was once one of the wealthiest in the Middle East but has been gripped by turmoil since a 2011 uprising unseated Muammar Gadhafi.

For Libyans the chaos has meant power cuts and crippling cash shortages. These are often made worse by battles between armed groups vying for control of the fractured oil-rich state and its poorly-maintained infrastructure.

"We haven't had water for 10 days. The state does nothing," said Nasser Said, a landlord in Tripoli's upmarket Ben Ashour district.

Already equipped with a generator to keep the power running during outages that sometimes last more than a day, he hired drillers to dig some 31 meters to extract groundwater for the six apartments in the residential block he owns.

Like many Libyans, Said is skeptical about the chances of U.N.-led peace talks unifying rival factions that have been fighting for control.

The talks were adjourned last week with little sign of progress in creating a government that could stabilize Libya and stand up to armed groups that have repeatedly seized oil facilities and other state assets to make demands.

Meanwhile, security sources reported Friday that bodies of 37 unidentified people were found near the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

The U.N.-supported Government of National Accord (GNA) has struggled to impose its authority since its leaders arrived in Tripoli in March last year.

The city has seen fewer big clashes since a handful of armed groups aligned with the GNA, but security is still fragile. A former prime minister was abducted in August for nine days by one of the two most powerful armed groups, while the other engaged in a battle this month that shut down the airport.

Public health services are failing, inflation has spiraled, and the start of the school year has been delayed by several weeks because teachers are striking over salaries.

Shutdowns crippled oil revenues so little has been spent on repairs and maintenance, and the water network and other infrastructure have been corroded.

Most government spending goes on public salaries, including for former rebel groups that forced their way onto the state payroll after Gaddafi's overthrow.

"In the absence of adequate spare parts, lack of budgets, lack of stability in the security situation, security chaos, people do not comply with the law and all this has affected the performance of the system," said Naji Assaed, head of the Libyan Water Authority.

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