Since the beginning of the summer, the Libyan capital has experienced no less than five major water cuts. The first one on May 20, at dawn. These interruptions are in addition to frequent power outages. At the end of July, when the mercury hit over 35°C and most parts of the capital had to cope with just three hours of electricity a day, Tripoli’s taps ran empty for several days.
Admittedly, the front line is dozens of kilometres from the centre of the capital, which has been besieged by the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar since 4 April. But the resource war has invaded Tripolitan homes. In fact, the problem has been endemic since 2011, due to the inevitable degradation of infrastructure.
“Foreign technicians no longer dare to set foot here for security reasons, and all modernisation contracts – such as the project to build three desalination plants between Tripoli and Misrata – remain blocked despite the huge investment opportunities,” says Farraj al-Amari, former Director of Planning at Tripoli’s Ministry of Electricity and Water.
The collateral damage of the Libyan security situation is not solely to blame. National resources are also one of the central issues in the civil conflict. Their poor management crystallises the tensions of a country, divided between clans and tribal groups, that has never made peace with its past.
“Since 2011, and especially during periods of war, water and electricity resources have been a political lever. Armed groups know this. And they exploit it for community or personal claims,” explains Lazib Mohamed Essaïd, a doctoral student at the French Institute of Geopolitics and an expert on Libya. In Tripolitania, controlling access to water and electricity is a powerful means of applying pressure against an increasingly inoperative government.
Consequently, the Government of National Understanding (GNA) of Fayez al-Sarraj, attributed deliberate water cuts to the Eastern Marshal, accusing him of causing a humanitarian crisis in the besieged enclave. “This summer, groups allied to Haftar in the southern part of the capital intentionally targeted water stations at least twice,” points Abdelkader Lahouili, a member of the Tripoli State High Council.
A United Nations press release has clearly described these as “attacks” and “potential war crimes” against civilians but stopped short of naming a perpetrator.
For their part, the LNA denies any involvement. Is Khalifa Haftar denying water to the population to win the battle? “He would have the means to do so, but the international community is watching him. Haftar still has a lot to lose in diplomatic matters. At the moment, he cannot afford to be likened to a war criminal,” says Jalel Harchaoui.