Accessing Water in One of the World’s Driest Countries

How the needs of conflict-affected communities in Southern Libya are being addressed

IOM - UN Migration
Mar 22, 2018 · 3 min read
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The Sahara Desert in Sabha, southern Libya. Photo courtesy of Mahmoud Erhoma

Libya is among the most water scarce countries in the world.

The Sahara Desert covers around 90 per cent of its territory and the more south you go, the warmer and drier the climate and ground get. A rapidly increasing population — likely to reach 12 million by 2025 from less than one million in 1955 — enduring local conflicts and national instability have intensified the challenge presented by Libya’s sparse supply of water.

Communities in southern Libya crucially rely on water wells to extract water, which through the connection to the water well network, reaches peoples’ individual homes. Over the past few years, many wells have fallen into disrepair or were not connected to the electricity grid, with no means of fixing these issues locally. As a result, families in Sabha and Qatroun faced extreme shortages of water, particularly in remote areas.

Over the past year, IOM, the UN Migration Agency’s Community Stabilization programme, has worked with the Water and Waste Water Company of Sabha and Qatroun, which is part of the local ministry of water resources, to rehabilitate 37 water wells and drill two new wells. This means 47,000 people, including internally displaced people and migrants, now have improved access to running water.

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An IOM water well under construction in southern Libya. Photo: IOM 2017

“Sabha has been suffering from serious shortage in water supplies,” explains engineer Mohammad Aboul-Qassem Yaqa, the Head of Works and Maintenance Department at the Water and Waste Water Company. “This support comes at a critical time when the Water and Waste Water Company is in need of such support to help us maintain this essential service to the people of the city,” he adds.

Lack of water is not the only issue facing communities in southern Libya — dealing with wastewater has also been a major challenge. A dysfunctional sanitation system is affecting people’s health and the environment that they are living in.

Major sewage leakages covering the streets, forcing shops to close and leading to a shutdown of the telephone cables, even triggered public protests in 2016.

In 2017, IOM supplied the General Water and Waste Water management company in Sabha with four waste water pumps serving a population of 110,000 people. To alleviate the consequences of waste water leakages and contaminated drinking water for 2,500 displaced people living in Attadamun area close to Sabha, IOM also constructed a waste water tank for them with a larger capacity.

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The handover of a completed well by IOM to a community in Sabha, southern Libya. Photo: IOM 2017

IOM through its ‘Together We Rebuild’ programme supports the stability and resilience of conflict-affected communities in Libya by restoring essential community services and infrastructure, promoting social cohesion and supporting the regeneration of livelihoods.

IOM has been active in southern Libya since 2016, where it set up Community Management Committees to guide the Organization’s work in the south. Representatives of various neighbourhoods and tribes from the Committee had raised the lack of functioning wells and limited access to water as a major problem faced by their communities.

With the support of the European Union (EU) and German Government, IOM has and will continue to support the Water and Waste Water Company in Sabha in providing critical water and sanitation services for their community, including the provision of sewer cleaning and septic trucks and the rehabilitation and drilling of wells.

This story was posted by Olivia Headon with IOM’s team in Libya on the occasion of World Water Day 2018. For more information, contact

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