The Human And Material Cost Of The War In Libya

North Africa

The conflict and political instability that gripped Libya since 2011 has had an immense impact on the country's economy and people.

Alongside Iraq and Syria, Libya is widely considered to have experienced some of the greatest complications of the Arab uprisings that began in 2010 and spread across North Africa and the Middle East. What started as protests and riots deteriorated into full-scale war after the Libyan Armed Forces under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi used force to put down the protests. Although Gaddafi was killed in the months that followed, the country, which once boasted the highest GDP in North Africa, has been mired in conflict and instability since 2011. The costs of the conflict are stark.

It is estimated that since the conflict in Libya began in 2011, some 15,000 people have died and many more have been left injured. 350,000 Libyans have been internally displaced. Another 270,000 fled the country to escape the instability and warring factions, many of them making the dangerous trek across the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

The instability also caused Libya to become a hub of illegal migration and human smuggling. It is estimated that some 700,000 people from Niger, Chad and Sudan are using the country as a transit hub. Some of these people were lured into the country with promises of a better life and subsequently endured horrific fates such as slavery. The large movement of people resulting from regional instability and the disorganised responses to the crisis has inflamed nationalist politics in Europe. Life for those who remained in Libya is not any better. The United Nations estimates that 1.1 million Libyans are in need of assistance.

Economically, the Libyan Oil Corporation estimates that the war has cost the country some $130 billion due to damage to oil fields and the closures of oil terminals. Oil theft alone is believed to cost the country millions each year. In a country whose primary source of income is oil, this represents a loss to the entire economy. Furthermore, it is estimated that the reconstruction of Libya may amount to $100 billion, a tally comparable to Iraq.

The economic loss and conflict has had its impact on the infrastructure. It is estimated that 11% of schools have been destroyed while the country’s healthcare system is on the brink. Cities such as Sirte and Benghazi have suffered immense destruction and there is much work to be done. Fighting in cities such as Derna, meanwhile, continues.

Politically, the country remains divided between the UN-backed Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) backed primarily by the Misrata Militias and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) backed by Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). A third government, the National Salvation Government, has attempted to wrestle power from the GNA but failed and maintains a small hold on a number of GNA constituencies. The vacuum of governance has allowed ISIS militants to gain power in places like Benghazi and Sirte. While they have since been defeated, they continue to pose a risk.

It is hoped that a number of new political initiatives to foster peace and reconciliation between Libya’s two governments may help bring the country’s war to an end. Furthermore, the gradual recovery of cities such as Sirte and the launch of new businesses in Tripoli is a cause for optimism.