Africa

Bringing stability to war-torn Libya

The impending end of Colonel Gaddafi's time as Libyan leader has raised immediate questions about the nation's stability.

There are fears that the chaotic situation could lead to a humanitarian crisis and even an increase in violence, much as the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq led to years of bloodshed.

So just what needs to be immediately done to preserve the basic fabric of Libya's society?

Aid agencies give their view on what the pressing needs are for the Libyan people, and what needs to be done in the coming few days to bring stability to the country.

Medicine

A number of organisations are already in Libya offering supplies and assistance.

A team of three Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) staff is currently in Tripoli and is starting to support facilities that, the charity says, are already overwhelmed with patients wounded in the fighting currently taking place in the Libyan capital.

MSF has also dispatched teams to Zlitan, east of Tripoli, and Al Zawiyah, to the west, to support hospitals faced with an influx of wounded.

It describes the current medical situation in Tripoli as having "already overstretched hospitals trying to cope with the influx of wounded, which do not have the support they need in terms of personnel or supplies".

Image caption Medical facilities, such as this teaching hospital in Zawiyah, have been badly damaged

MSF operations director Stephan Goetghebuer says that fuel, particularly for ambulances, drugs and security for medical staff are what's immediately needed in the capital.

"The ambulance network is reduced because there are fuel shortages. Drugs and medical supplies are running low, and many of the medical staff in Tripoli were foreign, so they left weeks ago.

"The ones who remain are struggling to cope with the backlog of work, and aren't necessarily trained to cope with what they're dealing with. And because of the fighting, many of them cannot travel across the city to reach the medical centres."

Mr Goetghebuer says that while there are now many cases of wounded people related to the fighting in Tripoli, these are simply added to the many cases that a city of 2m inhabitants will create every day.

"The system there is not totally down. It can recover, it just needs support - drugs, fuel, and staff security."

Power and communications

Geoff Loane is head of mission for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in London.

He says he has heard that there have been "significant" power cuts in Tripoli and that the phone lines are down in parts of the city.

"A lack of power and communications will generate other problems," he said.

"Families need to reassure themselves that their family and friends are safe. Not knowing that your mother is safe will make you worry more as each day goes past. It's extremely stressful.

"Once you know she's safe you can get back to trying to be normal. So communications need to be re-established where necessary.

"And with power cuts, this means that a lot of hospitals are hindered, as their basic functions rely on power, although some might have generators."

Save the Children says that in Benghazi there have been regular power cuts "some organised for a couple of hours, and some just when the system crashes".

A spokeswoman added: "The problem is that there isn't always enough fuel for the power stations, so the flow of oil and fuel needs to be regulated quickly, as power cuts are disruptive to people's lives."

Law and order

Mr Loane said that the ICRC had so far not heard of any looting taking place in Tripoli.

"The absolute priority is that security is provided, as required for a big urban sprawl," he said. "As we saw in England, it's very easy to destabilise urban environments."

The UK government has an advisor in Tripoli working with the National Transitional Council, offering advice on how to maintain law and order.

But the government insists any expertise is only given whenever requested by the Libyans, who are being left to organise their own security arrangements.

Education

Save the Children says re-establishing education for Libya's children as soon as possible is of vital importance.

"The majority of schools in Libya have been closed since the middle of February, and the majority of those have not re-opened.

Image caption There are concerns over Libyan children playing with the debris of war

"We're working with the National Transitional Council's Ministry of Education to get them opened again.

"It's important that the children have a sense of routine and normality that will help them to cope with the distressing situation they're currently living in."

A spokeswoman said that another form of education was desperately needed for children - that of how to avoid being harmed by discarded explosives.

"Children don't understand the dangers of unexploded bombs, shells and bullets.

"We need to educate them about staying away and not playing with such dangers, through broadcasts on radio and other media, and incorporating this into mainstream lessons in schools, when they reopen."

Food

Mr Loane says that the biggest issue in Tripoli at the moment is that people having access to markets.

"It's possible that there is plenty of food in the markets, but people are too frightened to venture out and buy food with all the fighting going on.

"People need to get that confidence back, to feel that their neighbourhoods - even if it's just two or three streets and a market - are safe."

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