Libya’s civil war leaves Sahara community without gas, electricity or water

The left and centre photos show people waiting in line to buy gas canisters in Oubari. The image on the right shows volunteers trying to repair cracks in the road between Oubari and Ghat. (Photos sent by our Observers)
The left and centre photos show people waiting in line to buy gas canisters in Oubari. The image on the right shows volunteers trying to repair cracks in the road between Oubari and Ghat. (Photos sent by our Observers)

The concentration of internationally supported military and political forces in the two major provinces of Cyrenaica and Tripoli has left Fezzan, Libya’s third province, largely ignored. Residents say this immense territory, which is roughly the size of France, lacks everything from medical facilities to a proper fire department and faces constant shortages of electricity, gas and fuel. They blame both sides of the conflict for their worsening situation because the fighting prevents supplies from reaching the region.

In the video below, which was filmed on June 28, a man from Tiwiwi says that a lack of firefighters in the region meant that he had to fight the fire that started in his home all alone. Tiwiwi is a rural community located 175 kilometres from Sebha, which is considered the capital of Fezzan.

"We beseech the two governments, we want a fire truck, an ambulance, medicine. We want everything. Look how we have to put out fires. You have forgotten the people in the south. We don’t have working sewer systems, cash, electricity or hospitals."

In this post, dated June 20, a resident of Ghat (located about 1,336 km southwest of Tripoli) says that it is almost impossible to get gas for cooking. He says, in the south, you might pay up to 300 dinars (equivalent to €180) for one gas cylinder, while, in the north, it could cost as little as 10 dinars (equivalent to €6.35).


“You, in the north and the east, you don’t know what is going on for us in the south. We buy a canister of gas for 300 dinars, and you are horrified when the price for a canister reaches 10 dinars. We pay three dinars for a litre of petrol and, where you are, it only costs 0.15 dinars,” complains this resident in a video that has garnered nearly 40,000 views.


"There’s been a shortage of gas canisters for the past eight months and there is still no solution"


Abderrahman Sidi is a 25-year-old blogger who lives in Oubari. He says that the central government has not worked to find solutions.  

It started to get really difficult to buy a canister of gas back in December and there is still no solution. The normal distribution channels have dried up. Meanwhile, the black market is flourishing and we end up having to pay 300 dinars (€180) for a cylinder, when, usually, it’s no more than three dinars.

Residents wait for gas cylinders to arrive at an official sale point in Oubari. 

A long queue to buy gas cylinders in Oubari.


We can’t rely on electric stoves, either, because sometimes we don’t have electricity for a few days. We end up cooking over wood fires. We also have to buy water tanks because the infrastructure for distributing potable water breaks down all the time and also requires electricity to work. You’d think we were living in the Middle Ages.

With no easy access to drinking water, locals have to buy water tanks. (Our Observer Abderrahmane Sidi sent us this photo).


To deal with the power cuts, we got a hold of generators, but it is hard to find fuel because most of the time, the petrol stations don’t have anything.

Smugglers sell a litre of petrol for three dinars, which is 20 times more expensive than its real price, even though the largest oil field in the country is literally nextdoor [Editor’s note: the Echarara oil field is located 75 kilometres to the east of Oubari] .

 The image on the left shows a petrol station partially covered with sand in the town of Ghat. The image on the right shows Fezzan’s blossoming black market trade in fuel. (Photos by our Observers) 


We’re also suffering from a cash shortage. Long lines form at the banks each time we hear that they’ve received cash. Sometimes fights break out. All this just to withdraw the small sum of 600 dinars (equivalent to 380 euros).’’

A crowd gathers in front of a bank in Oubari, which has suffered from a shortage in cash for months. (Video sent to our team by our Observer Abderrahmane Sidi)

"This long line in front of a petrol station in the south of Libya should be recorded as the longest line in history!” says our Observer Bachir Echeikh.


"The absence of economic activity pushes young people to collaborate with jihadist groups and smugglers”

Bachir Echeikh lives in Ghat and is the president of a local citizens group known as the Anger in Fezzan Movement League. He says that limited infrastructure and a lack of security are the biggest sources of frustration for residents.


The biggest problem is the almost total lack of law enforcement or security forces in a territory as vast as Fezzan. To go from one town to another, you have to travel hundreds of miles on roads that are full of cracks and holes. It is 370 kilometres between Ghat and Oubari, for example. There are no police checkpoints on the road and you may come across criminal gangs that will steal your car or money. They will attack you and you’ll find yourself in the middle of the desert with nothing.

Volunteers attempt to repair cracks in the road between Oubari and Ghat. (Photo sent to us by our Observer Bachir Echeik.)


The economic situation here is catastrophic as well, which is why the black market and all kinds of smuggling thrive in our border region. Young people don’t have any choice but to join these criminal gangs, which sometimes have links to jihadist groups. They join these groups out of necessity, not because they believe in the ideology.


"The nearest emergency doctor is hundreds of kilometres away”


The breakdown of the power grid in our region has affected the already limited medical services. If someone experiences kidney failure and needs dialysis, it turns into a nightmare. Between 2012 and 2017, there wasn’t a single doctor in the Ghat Hospital, except for a few medical caravans that came to help the population for a month at a time.


‘Look at the Ghat Hospital, deserted at the start of the day. There’s no one here, no nurses or doctors, no staff. People in Ghat need to rise up!” cries the person in this video that our Observer Bachr Echeikh shared on his page.


 The only two hospitals worthy of their names are in Sebha and Traghen (located 140 kilometres to the south of Sebha) and even those institutions lack medical personnel. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is only one emergency doctor in the entire Fezzan region. He works in Sebha, hundreds of kilometres from Ghat.


Since the start of the conflict between the government and foces led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar in April 2019, both warring parties in Libya have tried to cozy up to the tribes in Fezzan to earn their support and gain access to strategic petrol sites in the south of the country. But the loyalty of the tribal forces in Fezzan has gone back and forth between the two camps depending on the military situation. In June 2020, for example, several tribes announced they were pulling out of the armed forces loyal to Marshal Haftar.

Article by Omar Tiss