Thursday, March 03, 2011

Three million people could be displaced by the violence in Libya

The violence within Libya is creating a massive humanitarian crisis. Observers are warning that as many as three million people could seek refuge from the fighting. The UN is calling on governments to airlift people out of the border areas to prevent an overpopulation of human misery.

From the National Post, writer Peter Goodspeed covers the emerging humanitarian crisis.

"We may be facing a historic human tragedy," Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program (WFP), said Tuesday as she toured a border crossing between Tunisia and Libya that has been swamped with 15,000 refugees a day. Other UN agencies and international groups say Libya may already be on the brink of a catastrophe.

The World Health Organization says the health situation inside the country is "precarious;" aid agencies warn its food supply chain is "at risk of collapsing;" and Britain's Save the Children Fund says up to one million children trapped in the capital Tripoli and western Libya are in danger of becoming war victims.

Things could get worse if Col. Gaddafi's troops try to cut off food to opposition-held cities and towns. They have already attempted to bomb some of the huge pipelines that carry water to Libya's main cities from aquifers buried deep beneath the Sahara Desert, hundreds of kilometres south of the populated Mediterranean coast.

The WFP was rushing assessment teams to Benghazi in opposition-controlled eastern Libya Wednesday to determine if the port can be used for emergency food deliveries.

The Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Charlottetown also set sail from Halifax on a six-day voyage to join a U.S.-led naval task force off the coast, where it will help in any humanitarian mission.

Europe is watching the unfolding tragedy with consternation, fearing a massive regional displacement could trigger a tidal wave of illegal migration from North Africa.

The tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, just 160 km off the coast of Tunisia, has already been swamped with more than 6,000 would-be migrants seeking resettlement in Europe.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, announced a tripling of the European Union's humanitarian aid, to ease the crisis.

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