Aid organizations struggle to bring help to Libya

RABAT Thu Mar 24, 2011 10:43am EDT

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RABAT (Reuters) - International aid organizations are struggling to deliver humanitarian aid supplies to areas of Libya most affected by fighting, but have managed to bring in a few shipments in low-profile operations, aid officials say.

Many officials say the most dire need is in Misrata, Libya's third largest city where the main hospital is inundated with wounded yet does nit have electricity or water.

Fighting between rebels in the city and government forces continues, with government snipers firing in the area around the hospital, witnesses say.

"The humanitarian situation is very difficult. With no water and electricity and difficulty in medical care. Life is becoming complicated," said Abdulbasset, a Libyan rebel spokesman in Misrata.

Duccio Staderini, deputy emergency coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres, said his group was able to land a boatload of medical supplies in Misrata Monday night in a low-profile mission.

"We are in this difficult situation because we are not given access," he said by telephone from the Tunisian side of the Libyan border. "We are not able to speak clearly about our operations."

He did not say how his aid organization loaded a boat with medical supplies for 300 people, but he said the journey to Misrata took a week.

The group is working on arranging other medical shipments to the city, although Libyan authorities have not granted permission for them to do so.

"We are very concerned," said Staderini, who added his group wanted to bring some wounded to neighboring Tunisia for better medical care. "What we are trying to do here is to enlarge a humanitarian space that is virtually closed."

A mounting humanitarian crisis in towns like Misrata is likely to put more pressure on the Western coalition to go beyond simply enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya and intervene more actively in events on the ground.

AID SMUGGLING

A witness in another city in the country's west where rebels are battling against government forces said that smugglers had brought in medical supplies. He did not want the details to be published to avoid jeopardizing the operation.

Staderini said there could also be need for international aid to the capital Tripoli, but officials were not given access to assess the need or deliver the help.

Further to the east, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) brought in 145 metric tons of food including lentils, rice, sugar and oils by land from Egypt Wednesday to Tobruk in east of the country, said spokesman Marcal Izard.

The group withdrew two surgeons eight days ago from Benghazi because of the fighting, although some medical specialists had returned to the area. A Medecins Sans Frontiers team also pulled out of Benghazi on March 15 as fighting intensified.

"The fate of the affected population remains unclear and is a source of great concern to us," said Simon Brooks, who heads the ICRC mission in Libya.

"We are hearing very worrying reports coming out from cities like Ajdabiyah and Misrata, where combat has been raging for weeks now, and where hospital doctors are doing their best to provide life-saving care to patients under extreme difficult conditions."

Rebel sympathizers say several shipments have recently arrived in Benghazi. Richard Cook, an ICRC deputy health coordinator in Libya, said Benghazi had sufficient supplies of food and medicine.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beruit and Keith Weir in London; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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