Like many countries in Africa, Libya qualifies as suffering from the “resource curse, a phenomenon that occurs when countries that have large amounts of natural resources also have a high poverty rate. The country itself contains the largest oil reserves in Africa and the ninth largest in the world, but according to the CIA World Factbook, about one-third of Libyans live beneath the poverty line.
When Libya’s oil reserves were discovered in 1959, the most of the profits were quickly appropriated by the government of reigning monarch King Idris. The Libyan Revolution was launched ten years later by a coup d’état led by Muammar Gaddafi, who quickly gained power and ruled until two years ago when an uprising that coincided with populist movements throughout the Middle East region ended his 42-year autocratic rule. Today, a number of factors stand in the way of eradicating poverty in the new Libya.
- An interrupted economy. While Libya’s economy has been largely stable due to vast oil reserves, it suffered greatly during the six-month civil war. The year 2011 saw a 60% loss of GDP for the country, in no small part due to the foreign energy companies that withdrew workers during the fiercest conflicts. For a country where 95% of exports are generated by energy industries, this loss was a serious blow. While 2012 showed oil production’s return to pre-revolution levels, the loss of workers still threatens to slow growth. African Economic Outlook asserts that the major challenge for new Libyan leadership is “sustainable management” of the energy resources the country has.
- Ill-equipped health care systems. By the end of 2011, the newly formed Ministry of Health in Libya requested aid from the World Health Organization (WHO) for its health system. With less than 1500 primary care facilities for a population of over 6.5 million (as of February 2012), medical and health care has become a serious concern, especially in the aftermath of civil war. Many foreign health workers left the country during this time as well, deepening the health care void for remote and rural areas. For those who remained in the country during the civil war, the need for mental health and psychological support was particularly great. Libya’s Deputy Minister of Health Adel Mohamed Abushoffa expressed this need to the WHO in early February 2012: “We have a real shortage of psychiatrists. We currently have just fourteen in the whole country.”
- Lack of infrastructure. Even though state projects in the 1970s and 1980s promised much for infrastructure, Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) noted that even before the 2011 revolution, neglect had left the country with very poor infrastructure. NTC head Ahmed Jehani told the BBC in late August 2011 that a decade at least would be necessary to rebuild roads and regions damaged by the war. While some pre-revolution proposals for railways and improved ports may be resumed, uncertainty remains about whether work under these contracts will be continued.
While Libya’s new government faces political challenges of ideology, unification, and extremism, it also has greater opportunities than ever to collaborate with aid agencies and foreign investors to address these major problems and begin to eradicate poverty in such a resource-rich country.
– Naomi Doraisamy