Rise in casualties – and cholera – expected in Libya

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A month-old battle for Libya’s capital Tripoli risks causing an “exponential” rise in civilian casualties as well as outbreaks of diseases including cholera, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

Both sides use sophisticated weapons in a conflict straining lifesaving hospital supplies near front lines that will last only a few weeks, Dr. Syed Jaffar Hussain, WHO representative in Libya, said .

To date 443 people have been killed and 2,110 injured since the assault by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces on the internationally-recognised government started. Twenty-three civilians died, including four health workers.

At least 60,000 people fled the fighting and are in makeshift refuges, swelling the city centre’s nearly half a million population, Hussain added.

“The numbers will increase, because fighting is moving to the centre, the more populated area in Tripoli, where there is a higher likelihood more civilians will be trapped in crossfire and there will be more civilian casualties,” he told Reuters.

“LIKELIHOOD OF CHOLERA”

WHO medical teams performed 200 major surgeries in past weeks, as the United Nations pushes for a ceasefire.

“For the time being, looking at the injured, and those affected, these supplies can last three to four weeks,” said Hussain, a Pakistani expert deployed by WHO in hotspots from Afghanistan to Iraq for the last 20 years.

“If there is no ceasefire and is no reduction in the scale, scope and intensity of the conflict we will run out of supplies.”

Trauma kits for the wounded are stockpiled in Tripoli, Benghazi and Sabha, but medicines for chronic disease patients with diabetes or epilepsy are needed, he said.

Because of the crisis, WHO is seeking an additional $12 million from donors on top of its annual $42 million appeal for Libya. “We appeal to all donors, even if casualty/displacement numbers are not that high, in the coming weeks these numbers will increase.”

With summer coming, those forced from their homes are susceptible to diarrhoea and diseases due to contaminated water and food, crowding and poorsanitation.

“There is likelihood of cholera, for example, in these IDP (internally displaced person) dwellings because water and sanitation are compromised,” he said, also noting risks of hepatitis, typhoid, measles and tuberculosis.