sanitation in Libya
Libya is an arid country that has been facing sanitation and water inadequacies for decades due to its geographic location. The Sahara Desert covers most of Libya, and political turmoil has embroiled the country for years, aggravating its problems. Many humanitarian groups that act in the region, like UNICEF, have aimed to improve access to clean water and sanitation in Libya. Despite new funding, the region requires significantly more work.

These 10 facts about sanitation in Libya illustrate its problems with sanitation and water access, as well as different organizations’ efforts to improve the quality of life in one of the driest and most turbulent countries in the world.

10 Facts About Sanitation in Libya

  1. Ninety-five percent of Libya receives 100 millimeters or less of rainfall annually. This makes Libya one of the most arid countries in the world. Libya has consistently suffered from water scarcity and ranks 20th among the top 36 water-stressed countries. Political instability and military conflict have held the country back from meeting the water security and sanitation needs of its people. Currently, only 60% of all households in the country are connected to a reliable water source.
  2. The man-made river project (MMRP) provides 95% of Libya’s water. Despite being one of the largest civil engineering constructions in the world, the pipeline provides water that is considered unfit for drinking. Safer, bottled water is hard to come by. As such, many Libyans rely on the pipeline’s poor-quality water for drinking.
  3. Libya’s dependence on the pipeline creates risks for the country. Both people looking to sell parts on the market and political groups looking to gain influence in the capital have disabled wells throughout the MMRP.  In May 2019, a militant group forcefully shut down all pipelines to Tripoli for three days, depriving the city of water. These strains, as well as inadequate chemical treatment and equipment shortages, have damaged water quantity and quality. Badr al-Din al-Najjar, head of the National Center for Disease Control, declared that “all water is contaminated,” and “there is no drinking water” in the country.
  4. Unsafe drinking water increases Libya’s risk of waterborne illness. In July 2019, UNICEF spokesman for Libya Mostafa Omar estimated that nearly 4 million people out of Libya’s 7 million people would not have access to safe water in the event of a pipeline disruption. Diseases like cholera, hepatitis A and diarrhea may spread as a result of this lack of sanitation in Libya.
  5. Bacteria often contaminates each of Libya’s water sources. In fact, coliform bacteria has contaminated piped, well and transported water sources at a certain level. Piped water presents the largest risk, making up 55% of contaminated water samples. Additionally, 26% of contaminated samples came from well water, with the remaining 19% coming from transported water. In this environment, finding a reliable clean source of water is a struggle for many Libyans.
  6. UNICEF delivered drinking water to 106,000 Libyans in response to heightened needs in 2019. Approximately 41,000 of these people were located in conflict-affected areas. UNICEF also established services providing sanitation in Libya for 166,000 people and delivering hygiene items and information to 57,000 Libyans.
  7. This lack of water and sanitation has a particularly negative effect on girls. Girls who bring water to their homes or travel to use a latrine risk sexual assault when they venture out. Additionally, poor sanitary conditions make menstrual hygiene difficult to maintain, especially at school. In 2018, the Humanitarian Response Program invested $5.3 million in helping school-age children with a focus on helping girls navigate these problems.
  8. On average, 71 students share one toilet in Libyan schools. The Ministry of Education standard is 25 students per toilet. In these school bathrooms, there is soap 49% of the time, and 17% of schools have soap on occasion.
  9. In Libyan schools, 54% of water contains potentially harmful bacteria. Some of these bacteria raise serious concerns. For example, E.Coli has emerged in 10% of water samples. UNICEF and the National Center for Disease Control have prioritized funding projects that brought water and sanitation improvements to schools. Such projects benefited conditions for 10,000 school children only months after their implementation, improving sanitation in Libya.
  10. In 2019, there were 267,000 people in need of safe drinking water, improved sanitation facilities and hygiene-related items and information. In 2020, only 242,000 people are in need of UNICEF’s WASH services. However, the effects of COVID-19 and continued violence through the pandemic are likely to create more work for humanitarian groups over the next few years.

These 10 facts about sanitation in Libya address concerns that have existed for years. Clean water is scarce, and many citizens drink water unfit for consumption. Military conflict has destabilized the country, and many Libyans are having increased difficulty finding clean water and taking proper sanitary measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the incredible circumstances in the country, however, many organizations working to ensure that thousands of Libyans receive access to the resources they need.

Brett Muni
Photo: Flickr