UN relief chief warns of dire humanitarian situation inside Libyan city

Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos (right) visiting the Libyan-Tunisian border in March 2011

6 April 2011 – The top United Nations relief official today voiced serious concern about the dire humanitarian situation inside the north-western Libyan city of Misrata, where thousands of residents are short of food, water, medicines and other basic supplies after weeks of intense fighting.

Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, called on parties to the fighting in Libya to cease fire so that aid workers can rush supplies to those in need.

“We are very concerned about people trapped in Misrata, including migrant workers. Because of the heavy fighting, they are unable to leave the city for safer locations,” she said in a statement issued by her office.

“Now is a time when people’s ability to move is a life or death matter. We need a temporary cessation of hostilities in the area so that people can get themselves and their families out of harm’s way, if they choose to do so.”

UN aid agencies have supplies at the ready, Ms. Amos stressed, and can quickly distribute them to civilians in need.

Misrata, a city with an estimated population of 300,000 people, has been the scene of continuous fighting for more than a month between military forces allied to the regime of Muammar al-Qadhafi and opposition groups.

The clashes in Misrata are part of broader fighting and protests across Libya that has followed a popular revolt against the rule of Mr. al-Qadhafi and other long-term leaders across North Africa and the Middle East.

Within Misrata alone, hundreds of people have been killed or wounded and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that it is increasingly concerned by the situation in conflict-affected areas.

Almost 450,000 people have now fled Libya since the fighting began earlier this year, with many of those leaving being third-country nationals. Large numbers of people are also internally displaced, and more than 13,000 others are stranded in camps or at transit points along the border.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are all involved in efforts to bring relief materials and services to civilians in Libya or on the borders.

OCHA also warned that significant areas of Libya are contaminated with landmines, unexploded ordnances or abandoned weapons, jeopardizing the health of civilians.

“There is a need for community-based communication campaigns to inform people about the dangers… there is also a need to conduct assessments, including recording and documenting these new mines.”

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