Gunmen have cut off the main water pipeline to Libya‘s besieged capital Tripoli, spelling more misery for residents already reeling from weeks of fighting, residents and officials said.
Armed men on Sunday raided a station of the Great Man-Made River Project, a pipe network that carries groundwater from the Sahara to the country’s western region, the project administrators said.
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“Pumping from water wells has stopped after an armed group stormed the facilities and forced the workers to close all flow control valves and stop [the] water well,” the statement said.
The eastern forces of renegade commander Khalifa Haftar‘s Libya National Army (LNA) launched an assault on Tripoli in early April and are bogged down in southern suburbs by fighters loyal to the UN-recognised government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.
In past attacks on the pipeline, which was one of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi‘s few development projects, it has taken up to two days for households to notice water shortages in the coastal city of 2.5 million people.
Tripoli supplies suspended
The government agency said water provision would be restored once the attackers’ demands have been met, without specifying what they were.
Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from Tripoli, confirmed that water supplies to the capital and surrounding districts had been suspended, saying that people now had to rely on private water deliveries to meet their daily needs.
The Tripoli government blamed a group that also cut the water supplies in 2017, saying its commander Khalifa Ehnaish belonged to Haftar’s forces.
The LNA denied that and Ehnaish could not be reached on Monday.
Maria Ribeiro, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, condemned the shut off in a statement on Monday, saying that “such attacks against civilian infrastructure … may be considered war crimes”.
1/2 .@UN Humanitarian Coordinator for #Libya Maria Ribeiro strongly condemns the blockage of the Great Man-Made River, cutting off #water supply for hundreds of thousands of Libyans. Full Statement: https://t.co/xeCYQqNJMn pic.twitter.com/hZ7dXgodF4
— UNSMIL (@UNSMILibya) May 20, 2019
Fighting in the battle for Tripoli that began last month has killed at least 510 people and wounded nearly 2,500, forced 75,000 out of their homes, trapped thousands of migrants in detention centres, and flattened some southern suburbs, according to the UN.
It has also forced the closure of schools, split families on different sides of the front line, and brought power-cuts.
The conflict is one of the most serious flare-ups in years of chaos since the 2011 toppling of Gaddafi and has sharpened Gulf divisions over Libya.