Libya crisis to hit poor worldwide, EU warns

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Libya’s humanitarian crisis is starting to affect vulnerable people across the world, Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said yesterday (28 February), warning that the effects of rising oil prices were already being felt in the food sector and threatening to push millions into hunger.

Prices of basic foodstuffs have begun to sky-rocket in Libya, as fighting between supporters and opponents of its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, continued (see ‘Background’).

The UN’s World Food Programme warned that Libya’s food supply chain was “at risk of collapsing,” especially in the eastern part of the country, which is controlled by Gaddafi’s opponents.

Asked by EURACTIV if the EU had the capacity to respond to the looming food crisis in Libya’s east, Georgieva said the first challenge was to obtain reliable information about the situation on the ground.

“Of course we will significantly increase our assistance,” the commissioner said. But she stressed that the first thing would be to find out who to help, because the information available was currently sketchy.

“I’m not just worried about the Libyans,” Georgieva added, underlining her concern about people in poor countries across the world who were going to be hit hard by rising food prices.

‘Pray for the best, prepare for the worst’

“Only 18 months ago we were talking about the decrease in the number of people going to bed hungry. We went under 900,000,000 we went under 880,000,000 and today we are saying the number will again be over a billion,” Georgieva said.

“How much over a billion, the next days and weeks will tell us,” she added.

The EU humanitarian aid commissioner cited as an example the deteriorating situation in Ivory Coast, where over 25,000 have fled to Liberia in a matter of days.

Georgieva said that humanitarian workers had the habit of “praying for the best, but preparing for the worst”.

“What we are facing now is increased insecurity inside the country, with people fighting each other. The battle for Tripoli is the one we are most worried about,” she insisted.

Asked specifically about a possible role for NATO, she said that for the time being the situation did not require such involvement, but added that the situation was continually changing.

650 EU citizens still to be evacuated

The good news is that most of the 10,000 EU citizens in Libya have already been evacuated, Georgieva said. But she added that 650 Europeans in Libya wanted to be evacuated. They were looking for ways to leave the country but were located in remote areas and their evacuation was a challenging task, she said.

The commissioner desribed the situation in Libya as “hard to evaluate,” as the UN’s presence in the country before the crisis had been very limited and international NGOs had been practically absent.

Some 100,000 people have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis. The number of victims is “definitely above 1,000,” Georgieva said

Asked about her estimation of the possible number of refugees from Libya, she said that at this point it was difficult to make an estimation. There are 1.5 million foreigners in Libya and it is likely that many of them have flown or will yet flee to safety, she said, adding that the pressure on the borders of Tunisia and Egypt will continue to grow.

Georgieva said she had approved €3 million in aid for Libya, the highest amount which she is authorised to unblock at her level, primarily for medical supplies inside Libya, and also for helping with refugee flows at the Tunisian and Egyptian borders.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on 28 February for an special meeting to "consider further European Union action" on the Libyan regime.

During a phone call, the two leaders also agreed that the international response to the crisis had been swift and appropriate, AFP reported.

The leaders "discussed the importance of transforming the EU's approach to the region, and agreed that an early European Council was needed to consider further EU action on Libya," a statement released by Cameron's Downing Street office said.

Britain will announce on Tuesday it is cutting funding to some international aid organisations and will put some others on notice that they risk losing funding if they do not improve their performance, Reuters announced.

In a major shake-up of its 6.5 billion pound aid budget, Britain will also stop giving aid to more than a dozen countries while focusing its help on the poorest countries and "fragile" or war-torn states, officials said.

Britain could pull out of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, one of the U.N. agencies fighting hunger, unless it improves its "patchy" performance, officials have said.

Britain has also said it will freeze aid to India at around 280 million pounds a year while stopping aid to emerging economies seen as no longer needing it, including China, Russia, Serbia, Cambodia and Moldova and Vietnam.

The new plan will concentrate British efforts on the most deep-rooted poverty, with Ethiopia, Pakistan and Bangladesh likely to be the biggest recipients.

Rebels awaited counter-attack by Muammar Gaddafi's forces on Monday, after the Libyan leader defied calls for him to quit in the hardest-fought of the Arab world's wave of uprisings so far, Reuters reported.

Residents even in parts of the capital have thrown up barricades against government forces.

Analysts say they expect rebels to eventually take the capital and kill or capture Gaddafi, but add that he has the firepower to foment chaos or civil war -- a prospect he and his sons have warned of.

European powers said it was time for Gaddafi to stand down and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was "reaching out" to opposition groups.

In the eastern city Benghazi, opponents to Gaddafi said they had formed a National Libyan Council to be the "face" of the revolution, but it was unclear who they represented. They said they wanted no foreign intervention and had not made contact with foreign governments.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on 27 February that Paris is calling for an EU summit meeting to discuss the consequences of events in Libya. The next day, the bloc adopted sanctions against Muammar Gaddafi and his supporters.

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