Libya chaos leaves city residents struggling for water

Hundreds of blue pipes lay abandoned in Libya’s Zintan, leaving residents struggling to get enough water after the 2011 revolution halted their spot on the world’s largest irrigation project.

“We have nothing in Zintan,” said Al-Sid Chanta, a trucker who collects water supplied from a reservoir to deliver to residents’ homes.

Without the pipes in place to channel water directly to the city, he makes the trip eight times a day just to meet people’s basic needs.

“The (public) services are very poor,” said Chanta, who estimated each family needs around 40,000 litres of water a month.

Zintan was set to be part of Libya’s Great Man-Made River Project, a vast scheme to tap water from underground aquifers deep in the Sahara desert, purify it and transport it north.

But the city’s place on the project was abandoned after the 2011 ousting of dictator Moamer Kadhafi, leaving locals to rely on the old delivery system for water.

The reservoir feeds wells at the foot of the Nafusa mountains, where water is collected by truckers who take the steep road to supply less than 50 percent of Zintan’s 60,000 residents.

Abdallah al-Rammah, director of city hall’s water department, said there is a “large deficit” in water and the distribution network dates to the 1970s.

The same system is used by other cities around the mountains, such as Rojbane, Nalout and Yefren.

Zintan also lacks a public sewage system, meaning used household water feeds into septic tanks which have polluted the groundwater — later pumped and used by residents.

That has resulted in regular Hepatitis C diagnoses, especially among children, a doctor in Zintan said on condition of anonymity.

– ‘We lack everything’ –

The mayor of Zintan, Mustafa al-Barouni, said the city has suffered “injustice” and decades of marginalisation.

“We find that some cities have basic services, telecommunications, roads, ports and job opportunities, and others (like Zintan) have nothing,” he told AFP.

The mayor hit out at “corruption and the waste of resources” by transitional authorities, claiming the city receives barely a pittance from the state budget despite a drive for decentralisation.

“We have often resorted to debt,” he said, working with local investors to fund projects.

City authorities cannot meet the water needs of all residents, meaning some have pay for privately-run trucks which are expensive.

Political power remains divided in Libya, with a UN-backed Government of National Accord established in the capital Tripoli in 2015.

But a rival administration sits in the east of the country, supported by Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army.

Such deadlock has hit the finances of the oil-rich country, evident in Zintan by the cash-strapped shuttered banks and the long queues at petrol stations.

There is little sign of development in the city, apart from a few private construction sites, while African migrants carrying hammers or shovels wait desperately for work.

“We lack everything,” said Mohamad al-Garaj, in his 60s, who complained of price rises.

But for him, the water shortage remains the greatest problem: “We ask for help from the government and international organisations.”

Development projects were put on hold in the wake of the revolution and international efforts to break the political impasse have so far failed.

Attention now turns to a United Nations conference mid-April, which Zintan’s mayor hopes can bring changes to his resource-strapped city.

“The tension is such, that everyone at this point is convinced of the necessity of finding a solution,” he said.

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