Between Egypt and Algeria in the northeastern corner of Africa lies Libya, a large desert nation consisting of roughly 6.5 million people. Since 2011, a violent and chaotic civil war has plagued this North African nation and many aspects of Libya’s society are in shambles.
A former colony of Italy, Libya gained independence in the years following the Second World War. In 1969, rebel leader Muammar Gaddafi assumed power, using oil exports to fund an extremely repressive and prosperous regime. Decades later, as Arab Spring protests swept through North Africa, Gaddafi’s grip on power fell and the country descended into civil war. Because Libya’s quality of life is often stunted by the rampant chaos within the country, the following 10 facts about life expectancy in Libya unpack the economic, societal and cultural issues brought on by the conflict.
10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Libya
- Libya’s total life expectancy is at 71.9 years, 75 for women and 69 for men. The WHO ranks Libya 104th in overall life expectancy, although the chaos within the country often prevents humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations from collecting accurate data.
- Despite decades of human rights violations, Gaddafi’s regime upheld one of the more comprehensive and effective health care systems in the Arab World. Funded by oil exports, the government offered free, quality health care to all citizens. Although the conflict has destroyed much of Libya’s infrastructure, remnants of Gaddafi’s health care system are still present today.
- The biggest hindrance to improving Libya’s life expectancy is the civil war. The WHO estimates that 1.2 million people are suffering from food insecurity as a result of the conflict and more than 650,000 have unreliable access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Roughly 30,000 people have suffered from conflict-related injuries and a sharp rise in gendered violence has severely affected communities across the country. For the elderly, sick and young people of Libya, the long list of hardships brought on by the conflict has complicated an already difficult life.
- The conflict has devastated much of Libya’s once flourishing health care system, most notably in the urban centers of Tripoli, Sirte and the rural south. In one year, the U.N. reported 36 attacks on medical facilities and personnel, though many suspect the actual number is higher. Seventeen hospitals have been closed, while only four of Libya’s 97 health care facilities are functioning above 80 percent of their normal capacity. The remaining hospitals are overcrowded, struggling to perform basic procedures as medicines and supplies are often depleted and many health care providers have fled the country.
- With up to nine factions fighting within the country, Libya’s official U.N.-backed government has little control outside of Tripoli and Sirte. Therefore, public health and awareness campaigns have been largely absent as the WHO reports that 75 percent of Libya’s public health facilities have shut down. Prior to the start of the conflict, HIV/AIDS rates in Libya were relatively low. However, the lack of public health efforts, compiled with increases of rape and gendered violence have resulted in a higher prevalence of the virus.
- Nearly 64 percent of Libyans are either overweight or obese. The study also found that the diet of most Libyans that was already lacking in fruits and vegetables has been heavily influenced by Western food practices. In the past decade, the burger has become a staple in Benghazi cuisine.
- Libya is Africa’s largest importer of rolled tobacco and each year roughly 3,500 Libyans die from tobacco-related causes. Though the war has crippled Libya’s tobacco industry, cigarette consumption rates are expected to rise by 25 percent in the coming decade. This could have a significant impact on Libya’s life expectancy as there is a clear correlation between high smoking rates and decreased national life expectancy.
- Because Libya’s state-run health care is largely ineffective, organizations like the WHO provide essential medical services. Partnering with a number of Libyan hospitals, the WHO has provided $1.4 million worth of drugs and medical supplies, reviewed 10 Libyan hospitals and upgraded the country’s disease surveillance system. As recently as January 15th, the WHO offered a workshop on noncommunicable diseases, attended by 30 nurses.
- Libya and Egypt recently began a cross border partnership monitoring diseases and issuing vaccinations. Facilitated by the WHO, the partnership has made important treatments, including the poliovirus vaccine, available to Libyans and has helped curb outbreaks in the rural Western regions. Since the initiative, no cases of polio, neonatal tetanus, or yellow fever have been reported.
- Despite the long list of issues, Libya’s life expectancy is relatively high considering the violence and chaos within its borders. When compared to Yemen (65.3), Afghanistan (62.7), Iraq (69.8), Syria (63.8) and Somalia (55.4), areas currently experiencing some of the most intense conflicts in the world, Libya’s life expectancy is the highest at 71.9.
Most of these 10 facts about life expectancy in Libya revolve around the current civil war that is the main roadblocks in improving the country’s life expectancy. The current government is unable to provide consistent health care, food, water, electricity and other basic rights to Libyans, threatening the lives of the country’s most vulnerable.
After almost eight years of conflict, tensions may be cooling as rival factions met recently in Benghazi to discuss a possible ceasefire. If these recent peace talks prove to be successful, the resource-rich country could become a fully functioning state once again. Yet, Libya still has a long uphill climb, and nongovernmental organizations and foreign aid will still be an integral part of the country’s development.
– Kyle Dunphey