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Libya: distressing humanitarian situation in Tripoli and the west

29-08-2011 Operational Update

The armed conflict in Libya continues to take a heavy toll on civilians. The ICRC is stepping up its assistance for the wounded in Tripoli, redoubling efforts to obtain access to hundreds of detainees and taking steps to ease water shortages.

Caring for the wounded

Two ICRC surgical teams are in Tripoli to operate on patients and help allay the shortage of medical staff.

"As of today and over the coming days, both teams will be operating in Sbea Hospital, south-east of the city, near the international airport," said Georges Comninos, the head of the ICRC delegation in Tripoli. "Fighting has been going on in this area in recent days and patients there need urgent attention."

"Abu Salim Hospital, one of the main trauma hospitals, stopped functioning altogether because of the lack of staff. Dozens of people were left to die there," said Mr Comninos. On 26 August, the ICRC transferred 17 wounded survivors – including one child – from Abu Salim Hospital to Tripoli Medical Centre so that they could receive urgent assistance.

"We are shocked by what happened in Abu Salim Hospital," said Mr Comninos. "Parties to the conflict must protect wounded people and ensure they have access to health care. If a medical facility is located in an area heavily affected by fighting, the wounded need to be taken quickly to a safer place to receive urgent treatment."

More medical supplies, including surgical kits, wound dressings and intravenous fluids, arrived by ship or overland convoy in Tripoli over the weekend. ICRC staff are delivering the additional supplies – enough to treat between 450 and 500 people – to the main hospitals and local clinics.

Visiting detainees

The ICRC is maintaining its efforts to gain access to detainees in Tripoli. It visited 135 detainees in the capital, including foreign nationals, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, on 28 and 29 August.

"A constructive dialogue is developing with the detaining authorities, who have authorized the ICRC to visit the many improvised places of detention in the capital. So we hope to visit many more detainees in the coming days," said Mr Comninos. The purpose of the visits is to assess the conditions in which detainees are being held – including the extent to which they have access to medical care – and the treatment they receive, and to give them the opportunity to exchange messages with their families.

The ICRC is also visiting people detained in connection with the armed conflict in various other places in the country. In Misrata and Zlitan, it has visited more than 300 new detainees in recent days.

Water shortages

Water shortages in Tripoli and in the western part of Libya, from Misrata to the Tunisian border and into the Nefusa mountains, are making it difficult for people to obtain the drinking water they need. If this situation continues, it might turn into a serious public health problem. At the moment, even bottled water is running out in the shops.

The main regional water reservoir in Gharyan is empty. The ICRC is in contact with the authorities to provide essential support for efforts to restore the normal water supply.

Treating the dead with dignity

The bodies of those who have been killed must be treated with dignity. The ICRC is taking action on the ground to ensure that mortal remains are properly handled, identified and returned to their families as quickly as possible. It is distributing body bags and other items to those in charge.

In Tripoli and other places, training of volunteers from the Libyan Red Crescent in dead body management has started. These activities are carried out in cooperation with local and religious authorities.

ICRC presence in Libya

The ICRC now has 66 staff, including 26 expatriates, based in Tripoli, where it has been working since April. It also has permanent offices in Benghazi and Misrata, and in Jadu in the Nefusa mountains.


For further information, please contact:
Robin Waudo, ICRC Tripoli, tel: +881 622 435 156 or +218 913 066 198
Dibeh Fakhr, ICRC Benghazi, tel: +870 772 390 124 or +218 923 304 560
Marie-Servane Desjonquères, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 31 60 or +41 79 536 92 58


A injured person arrives at a hospital on Zawia Street in Tripoli. 

A injured person arrives at a hospital on Zawia Street in Tripoli.
© Reuters