Current issues and what the World Food Programme is doing
Libya is located in Northern Africa. It adjoins the Mediterranean Sea; clockwise, from east to west, it borders Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia.
With a footprint of 1,759,540 km2, Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa. However, it has a small population that, at the last estimate in 2014, numbered just over 6.25 million.
Most of the country is either sparsely inhabited or uninhabited, consisting of part of the Sahara and, in the south-east, its most inhospitable region, the Libyan Desert. The coast, which is a long, narrow strip of arid grassland, is dotted with towns where the majority of the population live.
With rainfall averaging 48 mm per year, Libya has no perennial rivers. Its small agricultural sector depends largely on a vast engineering scheme, the Great Man-Made River, which pumps millennia-old water from aquifers deep beneath the Sahara to farms and homes in the north.
Due to its harsh natural environment, Libya’s agricultural production is very limited. Even before conflict engulfed the country, 80 percent of the population’s food requirements were imported. At that time Libya, as one of the world’s most prolific oil-producing nations, maintained large trade surpluses. Although the country’s oil wealth did not percolate down to the wages of ordinary citizens, until 2011 the cost of food at household level was offset to some extent by a welfare state that offered free education and healthcare. Now, the country has a trade deficit and is gripped by civil war.
The welfare state is gone and food insecurity is widespread.
The current crisis began in 2011, but its complexity, which is largely due to tribal divisions, is rooted deep in Libya’s history. The country is a 20th century amalgam of three different pre-Roman-era regions: Tripolitania in the north-west, Fezzan in the south-west, and Cyrenaica in the east. From 1551 to 1911 the coastal regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were part of the Ottoman Empire but as a result of the Italo-Turkish War (1911-1912) became an Italian colony in 1912.
In 1934, all three regions were merged in their entirety into Italian Libya. Following Mussolini’s defeat in 1943 during World War II, Libya was split, with Tripolitania and Cyrenaica passing into British control, and Fezzan into French control. In 1949 the UN General Assembly set in motion the process of independence, and in 1951 Libya was reunited and became a constitutional monarchy.
In 1969, the monarch, King Idris I, was overthrown in a military coup by a group of officers led by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi. His regime held the country together for 42 years, during which the country’s wealth increased exponentially due to oil exploitation.
However, the revolutionary administration became increasingly repressive.
In February 2011, after popular movements toppled the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt, Libya experienced a full-scale uprising. The protests escalated into a rebellion that spread across the country, much of Libya had slipped out of Gaddafi’s control, with the forces opposing Colonel Gaddafi establishing an interim governing body, the National Transitional Council. On 20 October, Colonel Gaddafi was captured and killed by opposition forces.
In mid-January 2012, protesters against the NTC stormed its Benghazi headquarters, demanding greater transparency on expenditures, that Gaddafi-era officials be sacked, and that Islamic sharia law be the source of the country's future constitution. In a ceremony on 8 August 2012, the NTC formally transferred power to the General National Congress. Tasked primarily with transitioning Libya to a permanent democratic constitution, it was given an 18-month deadline to fulfil this goal.
When the deadline passed with work on the new constitution only just getting underway, the GNC was forced to organize elections to a new House of Representatives, which took power and replaced it on 4 August 2014. However, a power struggle had developed between secularists and Islamist parties and after the latter were defeated in the election of 2014, they used armed groups to take control of the capital Tripoli and set up a rival parliament called the New General National Congress which is not internationally recognized. The self-proclaimed GNC is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood's Libyan party and, the Justice and Construction Party. The elected Government, the Council of Deputies, backed by the Libyan National Army, fled to Tobruk where it formed the internationally-recognized Libyan parliament, the House of Representatives.
In late 2013, Libya had plunged into its worst political and economic crisis since the defeat of Gaddafi. The production of oil had almost completely stopped and the government had lost control of large areas of the country to the militias, while violence increased throughout the country. By 2014, with armed conflicts between tribal groups, Islamist groups, various other militias and administration forces, Libya had descended into a second civil war.
Prior to the conflict, at the beginning of 2011, Libya was Africa’s richest state, with a GDP of US$74.8 billion.
This wealth, the welfare state and women’s access to divorce, education and employment, earned the country a high human development rating, and a ranking of 64th out of 187 countries in the UNDP’s 2011 Human Development Report (HDR). In the 2015 HDR its ranking had dropped to 94th out of 188 countries. Libya’s population is suffering a major humanitarian crisis involving poverty, insecurity, gender-based violence, mass displacement and food shortages.
Current issues in Libya
Libya has recently been governed by parallel and rival legislative and executive bodies: one in Tripoli, consisting of a coalition of armed groups from western towns, and the other in Tobruk, where the elected House of Representatives and cabinet have convened. It is unclear, as of early April 2016, whether attempts to form a unitary administration will be successful. Conflict and instability have impacted more than 3 million people. An estimated 2.44 million are in need of protection and some form of humanitarian assistance.
In July 2014, Libya witnessed the most serious outbreak of armed conflict since 2011. Involving rival militias and the Libyan national army, it has aggravated tribal tensions and fuelled the growing influence of extremist groups.
Fighting remains intense between troops and militias supported by the two competing governments.
The situation has been further complicated by the presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) within Libya. In October 2014, Islamist groups in Derna aligned themselves with the ISIL, claimed the city, and remained there, despite airstrikes, until they were expelled by the Army in July 2015. They moved west, and by January 2016 controlled Sidra and the surrounding area.
They attacked Zliten and the Sidra and Ras Lanuf oil terminals, and announced their intention to eventually take Tobruk, the seat of the Government.
Libya’s economy has relied almost entirely on its extractive sector, which in 2011 accounted for 95 percent of its export earnings, 80 percent of GDP and 99 percent of its government income. Since 2013, the country has been in recession due to disruption in oil production by the domestic crisis, and to a global slump in oil prices. Renewed internal strife has put enormous stress on the government budget.
In 2014, total revenues dropped from US$39.9 billion in 2013 to less than US$15.8 billion in 2014, a reduction of 60 percent. That year’s GDP stood at US$41.4 billion.
In 2014, the government’s budget deficit reached 43.5 percent of GDP, the highest ever recorded for Libya. Large fiscal and current account deficits could deplete official reserves; various factions continue to compete to control them and threaten the capacity of the state to honour the public service payroll and its commitment to food, fuel and electricity subsidies. In 2014, domestic subsidies and public salaries represented 69 percent of GDP.
In May 2015 the International Monetary Fund reported that for Libya’s economy to break even, the oil price per barrel would need to be US$220. Instead, the Brent Crude price averaged less than US$51 in 2015, dropping in early 2016 to less than US$29. ,
People forced from their homes
According to UNHCR, since mid-2014 an estimated 435,000 people have fled their homes in search of safety and security. Most of the displaced are living in urban centres within host communities, collective centres in the open, or in makeshift buildings such as schools and empty warehouses. The displaced are particularly vulnerable due to limited coping capacities and loss of assets.
Refugees and asylum seekers
In addition there are an estimated 150,000 vulnerable migrants, and about 100,000 vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers in Libya. Their status makes them particularly exposed to abuse, marginalization and exploitation. Many have embarked on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. In 2015, 3,770 people lost their lives trying to make the crossing; in 2016 yet more have died.
Food insecurity has significantly increased and affects more than a million people, with the most severe cases reported in Benghazi and in the south. The armed conflict has disrupted commercial supply routes, limiting the availability of food and pushing up prices.
Loss of livelihoods has resulted in a reduction in household income, with many families unable to meet their food needs or rely on savings and/or reduce their health and education expenditure to feed themselves.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Libya
WFP had a minimal presence in Libya before the crisis, with the country operating only as a logistics corridor between Sudan and Chad.
Today, we aim to support the most affected and vulnerable people, whose food security has been compromised due to recent or multiple displacements, or who live in collective public places; and registered refugees, migrants and asylum seekers who are in dire need of food assistance, as per a request from UNHCR to support these groups.
In November 2014, WFP launched an Emergency Operation to address the immediate food security needs of people most affected by the political crisis and escalating violence in Libya.
With the number of food insecure people rising, WFP initially aimed to reach a monthly average of 175,000 people. However, given sustained funding shortfalls, WFP was unable to reach these goals. Instead, WFP assisted over a third of the internally displaced population. Each family received two food parcels, enough to feed five people for one month. These rations provide 77 percent (1,625 kcal) of daily energy requirements per person per day.
A new Emergency Operation was launched in January 2016, aiming to reach 170,000 of the most food-insecure people identified during the 2015 Libya Multi-Sectorial Needs Assessment. Under this, WFP is also providing food assistance to 40,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered by UNHCR and identified as food-insecure.
Despite the continuing conflict and security concerns, since November 2014 WFP and its cooperating partners Shaik Tahir Al-Zawi Charity Organization (STACO) and Libya Humanitarian Relief Agency (LibAid) have distributed food commodities to over 250,000 beneficiaries.
Due to the conflict and political instability, the Libya UN Country Team (UNCT), was evacuated mid-July 2014 to Tunis and continue to operate remotely from Tunisia.
World Food Programme partners in Libya
WFP cannot fight global hunger and poverty alone. These are our partners in Libya:
Featured Libya publications
A Country Brief provides the latest snapshot of the country strategy, operations, operational highlights (achievements and issues/challenges), partnerships and country background.
The Emergency Dashboard provides a visual overview of the most relevant operational information related to WFP’s response in the emergency, including geographical, funding, and performance related information.
Looking for more publications on Libya? Visit the Libya publications archive.