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.