|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6530th Meeting (PM)
United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Head Briefs Security Council on Libya,
Presses for Pause in Hostilities to Allow Evacuations, Aid Deliveries
The United Nations top humanitarian official this afternoon pressed for a temporary end to hostilities in Misrata and other areas in Libya in order to allow civilians in the strife-torn North African nation to leave and international relief workers to deliver vital humanitarian aid and assess the humanitarian situation on the ground.
“Civilians are still coming under fire in these conflict areas. This has to stop,” Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said as she briefed the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Libya. The Council, she said, must continue insisting that all parties respect international humanitarian law and spare civilians.
“Humanitarian agencies must have access to all people, regardless of where they are and under whose control they happen to find themselves,” she said.
Ongoing shelling and fighting in the north-west city of Misrata in the past two months had caused shortages of food, water, medical supplies and medical personnel, she said. The conflict, the breakdown of State infrastructure and the scarcity of cash and fuel had severely disrupted supply lines.
More than 746,000 people, mainly third-country nationals, had fled the country, she said. Some 5,000 people were stranded at border crossings into Egypt, Tunisia and Niger; 58,000 internally displaced persons were living in makeshift settlements in eastern Libya. The total number of casualties since the crisis had begun in February was still unknown. In the coming months, widespread shortages would gravely affect those left behind, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.
“The next two to three months will be a critical period for Libya,” she said. Thus far, Member States had provided $144 million in humanitarian aid, 46 per cent of the amount needed. The United Nations was revising its appeal upwards to support increased humanitarian needs. On 17 April, she had reached an agreement with Libyan authorities to fully support a humanitarian presence in Tripoli and giving aid agencies secure access to affected areas in western Libya.
Ms. Amos said “every possible effort” was being made to deliver aid and evacuate people through civilian resources. Military assets would be used only as a last resort, but she insisted that “we have not yet reached this point”.
The reported use of cluster bombs, sea and land mines, and aerial bombings showed a “callous disregard” for the physical and psychological well-being of civilians, she said. There were reports of rape and concerns over recruitment of children as combatants. Shelling of Misrata’s port had prevented humanitarian ships from accessing it.
Still, more than 4,000 metric tons of food, water, medical supplies and sanitation materials had entered Misrata, mainly through the port. More than 13,000 people, mainly third-country nationals, had been evacuated by boat. But another 150 to 300 third-country nationals must be evacuated, as should an unknown number of seriously ill and injured people requiring emergency medical assistance. Continued liaison with all parties was essential to maintain and expand the scope and reach of humanitarian operations.
The United Nations team, which had been forced to relocate from Tripoli after its offices had been ransacked on 1 May, intended to return to the Libyan capital as soon as possible and open land access to Misrata, the western mountains and other affected areas, she said. Libyan authorities had offered to fully compensate the United Nations for the damages and had agreed to safeguard the Organization’s personnel and property.
She also expressed concern over reduced access to food and medical supplies in the western mountains region, home to an estimated 750,000 people. Some 50,000 people from that area had fled to Tunisia. The World Food Programme (WFP) was delivering some aid, while non-governmental organizations were providing medical assistance to Nalut and Zintan, the main towns. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was providing food and non-food items to the some 2,200 refugees in camps in southern Tunisia.
She was particularly worried about the conflict’s impact on the health sector. In Tripoli, only 45 per cent of medical personnel were working; thousands of foreign nurses and doctors had fled the country. In addition, schools were closed.
The country relied heavily on food imports to feed its 6.5 million people, but food stocks were being depleted, she said. Eastern Libya had two months of available food stocks; western Libya had three. The cash shortage and rising food prices would exacerbate that situation. Moreover, water desalination supplies were running out. Such structural vulnerabilities must be addressed to minimize their adverse impact on civilians.
The meeting began at 3:07 p.m. and adjourned at 3:20 p.m.
* *** *For information media • not an official record