A United Nations ship carrying life-saving food, medical supplies, doctors and other relief items arrived today at the Libyan port of Misrata, opening up a humanitarian lifeline to civilians trapped in an area that has seen continuous and heavy fighting between forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Al-Qadhafi and rebels seeking his ouster.
“This is a breakthrough for the UN humanitarian operation in Libya and allows us to reach tens of thousands of people who are caught in one of the fiercest areas of conflict,” said Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), which chartered the vessel.
Working with partners such as the Libyan Red Crescent, WFP plans to provide food to more than 600,000 people inside Libya over the next three months, it stated in a news release.
“The operation in Libya is complex and dangerous, but we are exploring every possible avenue to get food to the hungry,” said Ms. Sheeran. “This means moving food assistance and other relief supplies by road from Egypt, and by sea into the main ports along Libya’s Mediterranean coastline.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN relief chief Valerie Amos have voiced deep concern at the ongoing attacks on civilians and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in several cities across the North African nation, including Misrata.
Mr. Ban, in a statement issued yesterday, repeated his call for an immediate cessation of the indiscriminate use of military force against the civilian population and to ensure full access for humanitarian assistance.
Conditions in Misrata, which has an estimated population of 300,000, are especially grave, the statement noted, with reports of the use of heavy weapons to attack the city, where the population is trapped and unable, as a result of heavy shelling that has continued over several weeks, to receive basic supplies such as clean water, food and medicines.
The ship that arrived today brought with it more than 600 tons of WFP food – enough to feed over 40,000 people for a month.
It is also bringing two doctors, as well as delivering enough medical supplies on behalf of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to cover the urgent needs of 50,000 for one month.
“The situation is urgent for tens of thousands of children in Misrata and across Libya, who are potential victims of the fighting or who have already paid a terrible price,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “These supplies are a lifeline to them and all those trapped in the fighting.”
Almost 450,000 people have now fled Libya since what started out as protests against Mr. Qadhafi’s rule turned into a full-scale battle between the Government and the opposition earlier this year. Large numbers of people are also internally displaced, and more than 13,000 others are stranded in camps or at transit points along the border.