March 29, 2011 / 6:21 PM / in 6 years

Dire food, medicine shortages in Libya conflict zone

6 Min Read

* Humanitarian situation in Misrata "catastrophic" -rebel

* Aid workers limited by security situation in west

TUNIS, March 29 (Reuters) - Libyans are suffering dire shortages of food, water and medicine in areas caught up in the six-week-old civil war, above all in cities under siege from Muammar Gaddafi's forces, residents and aid workers say.

In Libya's third largest city Misrata, where forces loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi and rebels continue to clash, the main hospital has been inundated with wounded and residents say water supplies and electricity have been cut off. Libyan officials deny deliberately cutting power and water to the city.

"The humanitarian situation is catastrophic. There is a shortage of food and medicine. The hospital is no longer able to deal with the situation," Sami, a rebel spokesman, said by telephone. "We call for urgent help to protect civilians and improve the humanitarian situation."

Aid agencies, based in the rebel-held east, were able to bring in supplies via Misrata's Mediterranean port last week but it is uncertain if they can deliver more because control over the port has seesawed between rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces.

"We are very concerned (about Misrata)," said Eman Moankar, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross operations in eastern Libya.

"The consequences of this fighting is a worry for us."

In Zintan, resident Abdulrahman also spoke of shortages as pro-Gaddafi forces remain outside the western Libyan town.

"It is difficult to even get water in from wells outside the town because of the positions of the forces," he said.

Aid is coming into rebel-held eastern town of Benghazi but with the security situation limiting humanitarian access further west, U.N. aid agencies say they are reviewing conditions and hope to determine the next steps in coming days.

"We are managing to send some supplies in already with the Libyan Red Crescent, of course (it's) only reaching some parts of the country," Melissa Fleming of the U.N. refugee agency said. "Of course cities under siege or Gaddafi control are not being reached."

She said the UNHCR had reports of a lot of internal displacement, with thousands of families living in makeshift shelters cut off from any kind of assistance.

The U.N. World Food Programme said it was concerned about food shortages in the country. "Libya depends on food imports," said spokeswoman Reem Nada, speaking from the Libyan-Tunisian border. "Supplies are being cut off, stocks are depleting."

The World Health Organisation, present at the Tunisian and Egyptian borders, has prepositioned drugs and medical equipment there. "As soon as we have access to Libya, as other U.N. agencies, we will help in providing these drugs to centres and hospitals," spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said.

"Tripoli Is Suffering"

In the capital Tripoli, Gaddafi's main power base, residents are also facing tough conditions. Prices have soared, basic items such as milk and cooking gas have grown scarce, and people must spend hours queueing as the war hits daily life.

"Tripoli is suffering," a resident, who did not want to be identified, said by phone. "This is the life in Tripoli. It's getting worse every day."

Shop shelves have fast emptied and gas canisters as well as electric hot plates to warm coffee and tea without using gas have become scarce. "Most of the products have now disappeared, children's milk, for example," he said.

As residents have rushed to stock up for what international observers say could be weeks or months of war, some have hoarded supplies, resulting in steep price hikes.

"Most of the commodities like oil, the basic needs, prices are increasing," the resident said. "For example, we used to buy one can of oil for cars, it used to cost 1.25 dinars, now it costs almost five dinars. When you come to cooking oil, it's also double the price."

"If you want to buy it you have to go early, maybe you will find it, maybe you won't. People are very frightened so they store these things in their house, and some they store and sell for double the prices."

As is typical in an economy of shortage, especially in a country under international embargo, Libyans must spend hours in line to obtain basic goods. Adding to the difficulties are shorter store hours than usual.

"There are very big queues in the banks and sometimes they don't have currency. So they have queues in the banks, queues in the gas stations, queues in the shops," the resident said. Libyan national television has said little about the hardships of current daily life, showing mainly pro-Gaddafi rallies and events for many hours of its broadcast day.

Shokri Ghanem, the chairman of Libya's National Oil Corporation, said on Tuesday oil output had "dramatically declined" and that there was a petrol shortage.

"There is a crisis because of what is happening in Libya. I hope there will be a solution soon," he said on state TV.

"Many oil fields have halted because the foreign work force left the country. Many refineries have also stopped producing including Brega. It's difficult to return to normal in a short period. That needs time."

The Internet is not working in Tripoli, but government-controlled newspapers are still being printed.

"Most people are not concerned with this, they are concerned with their living conditions," the Tripoli resident said.

Reporting by Christian Lowe and Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers, Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Tarek Amara in Tunis and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; editing by Mark Heinrich

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