Aid poised to flow as fog of war lifts in Tripoli


Humanitarian aid workers said a rapid resolution to the Libyan conflict would help them bring urgent help to the residents of Tripoli, where medicine and fuel supplies have run low and many foreigners have fled.

Any prolongation of the conflict in Tripoli could be disastrous, since the civilian population faces much greater risks from continued fighting than they have during the past six months of a slowly tightening siege.

Gaddafi’s four decades of absolute power appeared over on Tuesday as rebels burst into his compound in Tripoli after a fierce battle with a loyalist rearguard, Reuters reports.

But there was no word on the fate of the Libyan leader and the potential for further fighting, especially after premature claims of rebel gains, have made aid agencies wary of lowering their guard.

No figures were available for the number of people killed in the recent fighting or the number of wounded in Tripoli’s hospitals. The aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres has said fighting in towns close to Tripoli has left the area “overwhelmed with casualties.”

A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross visited a medical facility in Tripoli Monday and found all 40 beds were full, forcing some patients to be moved to private houses, said ICRC spokesman Steven Anderson.

The Libyan capital’s health care system was already running at below 50 percent of normal capacity because of the lack of medicine and because it depended so heavily on foreign experts, most of whom fled months ago.

Hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals are still in Tripoli, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which has sent a ship to start evacuating thousands who asked to be rescued as the fighting suddenly closed in on the capital over the past weekend.


But those stranded thousands, including Filipinos, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans as well as citizens of countries neighbouring Libya, may have left it too late to get out.

The IOM ship, which could be the first of several to arrive this week, was told not to dock because of the potential risk, and was waiting at sea to see if the situation looked safer on Wednesday.

However, if the situation did improve, many of the would-be evacuees might change their mind, the IOM said, since they had already stuck out six months of civil war and might have stronger ties to Libya than to their own countries.

There was no apparent food crisis in Tripoli, but prices have spiked in recent months because the blockade of the capital forced the market to rely on increasingly rare smuggled imports.

Tripoli’s residents may be shocked if they race to buy food and are confronted with unsubsidised prices, said Christiane Berthiaume, a World Food Program spokeswoman.
“They had a public distribution system with prices of food that were very very low, and so people are used to not paying a lot of money for their food. So is that going to work?”

When explaining the difficulty of assessing the situation in Tripoli and the likely needs of the residents, humanitarian aid agencies cite the “fluidity” of the situation and the problem of access in the last few days.

The ICRC is sending a four-strong surgery team to help treat the wounded, but with so little certainty amid chaotic urban conflict in Tripoli, it has not yet decided where they will work or how they will get into the capital.

But they were hoping to leave Wednesday morning and reach the capital later in the day. “We’ll always hope for the best but prepare for the worst,” said the ICRC’s Anderson.