March 22, 2011 / 9:04 PM / in 7 years

Libyans lack food, health care: aid agencies

GENEVA (Reuters) - Libyans increasingly lack access to medical care and life-saving drugs, and food prices are rocketing as the conflict deepens, aid agencies said on Tuesday.

Most of Libya remains off limits to aid workers, who say they have sketchy information about the humanitarian situation, especially since Western air strikes began at the weekend.

Most foreign medical staff have fled the country, leaving few doctors and nurses to run intensive care units taking in greater numbers of casualties.

Muammar Gaddafi’s forces attacked two west Libyan towns on Tuesday, killing dozens. Rebels are pinned down in the east and NATO is trying to resolve a heated row over who should lead the Western air campaign.

“There are reported shortages of medical supplies and basic commodities in the eastern part of the country, with prices having increased dramatically,” Adrian Edwards, spokesman of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, told a news briefing in Geneva.

Libyans and migrants arriving at the Egyptian border have told UNHCR that thousands of Libyans in the east have taken refuge in homes and schools, Edwards said.

“The conflict has led to acute shortages of many essential medicines, including anesthesia drugs. This poses particular problems given the current high rate of patients admitted to hospitals with acute trauma injuries that require urgent surgical intervention,” Fadela Chaib of the World Health Organization (WHO) told reporters.

There is also a huge shortage of drugs to treat chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health disorders, she said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), one of the few aid agencies deployed in eastern Libya, is trying to deliver emergency health kits to both rebels and government forces near Benghazi, ICRC spokesman Marcal Izard told Reuters.

“We have also visited two wounded government soldiers, held by the opposition, who are in Benghazi hospital,” he said.

The U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) has sent 1,500 tonnes of food, mainly wheat flour and high-energy bars, into Benghazi so far, enough to feed 114,000 people for 30 days, a spokeswoman said.

It plans to send in 30 tonnes of lentils and vegetable oil from Egypt in coming days, she said.

“WFP is particularly concerned about access to food inside Libya,” WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella told reporters.

“We’ve heard reports, from people who made it to the border, of prices for wheat and bread more than doubling, rice increasing by 88 percent and vegetable oil by 58 percent,” she said. Most shops in Zawiyah, Misrata and Sirte were closed.

The WFP is gearing up to provide up to 25,000 hot meals a day at Tunisia’s border for people fleeing Libya. It now provides about 4,000 hot meals a day to migrants who await evacuation to their home countries at Tunisia’s Djerba airport.

“We’re planning to provide up to 50,000 meals at the border with Egypt if indeed the outflow requires that,” Casella said.

Nearly 325,000 people have fled Libya since violence began, mainly migrants from Tunisia and Egypt, but including some 40,000 Libyans, according to the UNHCR’s latest tally.

“We are gearing up even more to provide assistance within Libya once conditions permit. Our concern is the impact of the violence now on the populations of Ajdabiyah, Benghazi and Misrata and our inability to access these civilian populations,” said Marixie Mercado of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

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