Life in Libya: The Tripoli clashes and what they unearth

Samer AbdelJaber, the World Food Programme Representative and Country Director in Libya, writes about his team’s heroic response during the ongoing fighting in Tripoli.

Samer AbdelJaber
Jun 18, 2019 · 4 min read
Emergency response: in the first days after the clashes, we started providing food assistance to people displaced because of the fighting. Photo: WFP/Noorelhuda Gleasa.

In the beginning of April, renewed fighting broke out in Tripoli where the World Food Programme main office in Libya is. Most of our staff inside the country are Libyan. As clashes worsened, I worried for their safety and for how they must be feeling seeing a new wave of displacement in their country, which had been hard at work rebuilding itself.

In these cases, it’s normal to be scared, to not want to report to work or go to food distribution sites. We’re all in constant contact. As security advisories rolled in, we checked in with our staff in Tripoli: Do you prefer to work from home? Do you feel unsafe at distributions? Should we find another way to reach the people we serve?

An example of their reaction: one day I received a message from one of my team members on our Whatsapp group, a Libyan colleague whose neighbourhood had come under heavy shelling the night before. I was scared to even open the message. I wasn’t sure what might be in there.

“Good morning everyone, just dropping my kids off at school and then I’ll be in — picked up bread for everyone to make sandwiches for lunch!”

What a relief!

That is the story. I have been with WFP for sixteen years and that has always been the story. Sooner or later, no matter what the situation is, we become a family. We unite with the people we work with and with the people we are here to serve. In times of distress, geographic boundaries become meaningless lines on a map.

As the number of people displaced continued to rise, WFP teamed up with sister UN agencies to provide emergency support to people affected by the worsening clashes. We also committed to continuing our regular monthly food distributions.

Our staff in Tripoli all volunteered to do whatever was necessary. No matter what their usual jobs were, they carried boxes at distributions, showed up at the office early, brought food for everyone to share. What do you need? How can I help? In the face of worry and fear, they became even more resilient, even more positive and willing to help in any way they could.

Some of the team in Tripoli! Photo: WFP/Mayssoun Chemila.

As I spend more time in Libya, I see this time and time again: resilience, positivity, the drive to help each other and build a stronger future.

What is happening right now in Libya has happened in many other places before: people coming together, the everyday heroes, true camaraderie. I am proud to say that in WFP and with the type of work we do, you see brave men and women rising in times of crisis. And then the extraordinary happens every single day.

Joint efforts: we’ve teamed up with sister UN agencies UNFPA, IOM, and UNICEF to ensure we’re reaching people displaced because of the fighting. The package includes food parcels, hygiene kits, dignity kits and other non-food items. Photo: Rapid Response Mechanism Libya agencies.

As we respond to the unfolding emergency and at the same time continue to do our regular work in Libya, I wanted to take a second to reflect. To take a step back and tell my team: you make me proud every day to be wearing the WFP blue.

Working with our local partners: WFP food is loaded onto trucks at the warehouses, and then heads out to be distributed.

I am lucky to be part of this.

The WFP Libya operation has been providing food assistance to families in Libya since April 2011, when the uprising began causing major food shortages in conflict areas across the country. In 2019, WFP in Libya aims to support 147,000 people in need throughout the country, through food parcels as well as innovative modalities including a school feeding programme and livelihood projects.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store