Life an Uphill Struggle in Libya…

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To say the lives of Libyans since their so called revolution in 2011 have become all but an uphill struggle against, sometimes, the impossible is an understatement!

Life in Libya has been tremendously reduced to daily suffering despite the wealth of the country; when you recall how easy it was before 2011 you really miss the country you used to live in, and, of course, miss the guy who used to keep it going for the majority of people.

Today’s Libya is a little bit of Somalia, Iraq, and Yemen combined together, however, rudimentally.

Just imagine spending between 7 and 9 hours on an average every day without electricity while the average temperature is 40 degrees Celsius and humidity hovering around 60% or more in the summer!

You go to the bank, maybe twice a week, to get some money; after waiting for hours in the scorching Tripoli sun you are told there is no cash! It’s your money but still you cannot have it because banks are short of liquidity as they have been for the last year or so. Whatever cash they get they struggle to distribute to as many people as possible. So no one gets enough which means you never get the exact amount you need; sometimes so desperately!

Assume that something goes wrong with your kitchen sink, you contact the plumber to come and fix it. He demands cash payment – most likely he is an illegal worker with no bank account. So what you do? You simply let the sink dribbles on as you think of saving whatever cash you have for something more important in a county where cash dominates the economy and every payment is made in cash!

Lately some shops have started accepting payment cards and cheques provided one pays 30% higher than the cash price; sometimes even more. You demand explanation from the grocery owner or any other shopkeeper and his answer is a no nonsense take or leave. “This is what we have and if you do not like it we cannot do anything about it”! Of course, all this only if he knows you and trusts you enough to accept your cheque. But how many people will he know and trust?

If you are having a bad day and end up seeking medical help, your problems multiply. You go to a public hospital seeking treatment but a doctor sees you after you wait for at least two hours. You are lucky if you walk away with simple prescription; however it will cost you great deal of cash! Before the 2011 Revolution, you, as a Libyan, used to get medical check-up and the medicine at half price or completely free at any public hospital.

If your condition requires serious medical intervention, well, it means really bad luck. Because all public hospitals, which used to treat people for free, today lack basic things such as simple injection, simple pain killers. Most of the public hospitals do not even have electricity.

If the doctor decides that you have to have an operation then be ready for a long list of shopping! Yes, medical shopping, if you like.

The respected doctor will give you a list of the things he needs for your operation and you have to go to the medical supplies shop (all private) and buy them. This brings you back to the issue of cash again!

You could have gone to a private clinic (most of them operate illegally) but the cost is prohibitive! At least in the public hospital the doctor does the operation free of charge, albeit at his own convenience!

In case things get worse and you are advised to seek medical treatment abroad, then, believe me, you have to go through the hell, literally.

First you have very little choice as to where you can go. All European countries require visas and to get one you have to spend a huge sum in cash again. You have to travel to Tunisia at least once since there are no EU embassies in Libya. You need much more cash to actually travel for your medical treatment. So Europe is out of question. You are left with three choices – Egypt, Jordan or Tunisia.  While Egypt and Jordan offer a visa on arrival, for Tunisia no visa is required.

To go abroad for medical treatment, you would need at least five thousand USDs. To get such a figure nowadays in Libya you would need to buy dollars in the black market at the prevailing rate.

For the last nine months or so the Libyan Dinar (LYD) has devalued against all other currencies. You are lucky if you can get the five thousand figure for, say, 42 thousand Libyan dinars! It is a huge money since the average income in Libya is about 500 LYD or about 60 USD.

Before the “revolution” a Libyan’s income averaged around 300 USDs while the exchange rate was around 1.3 LYD to the dollar. In those days you used to buy almost everything at subsidized prices supported by the government including hard currency even for medical treatment abroad.

The depreciation of the Libyan Dinar has led to multitude of other problems. Prices of daily consumer goods have increased by some 200% and in some cases by 500% over the past five months. In fact some goods are no longer available because their prices have become so high that shopkeepers do not sell them anymore.

For example, it is very difficult to find certain shaving creams or plates just as it is so difficult to find after shave or good sun glasses, reasonable perfume or shampoo. A one-liter bottle of olive oil costs around 15 LYD while a good suite means an outgo of some 1500 LYD; nice shoes too have become dear at 400 LYD. So people have learned to go without such luxuries. One baguette costs 5 times what it used to be six years ago; ditto with fresh meat; one kilo of fresh meat costs three times more now. Bread is the stable of the day for every family.

As a Libyan you are likely to remember, as a distant memory, the time, just before six years ago, when one American dollar was available for 1.3 LYD and when the central bank offered the dollar at a still lower rate in case your condition didn’t meet the criteria for free medical treatment abroad!

Those days bread used to cost less than 10 LYD cents.

So no wonder many people who have to go abroad for medical emergences have to sell their cars and sometimes their homes to have enough cash on hand.  No surprise very few Libyans travel for medical treatment these days let alone for leisure!

The other day a friend remarked: “If you get sick, pray to God that it be a simple matter. If not pray that you die quickly. The longer you are sick the more ruins you will bring to yourself and your family!”

No one seems to have any answer to why our lives have become so difficult.

Yet we still have two governments, two Parliaments, one State Council, two Prime Ministers, so many ministers, and even more political parties.

One of our Prime Ministers has just called for new election for next March while the other said no! I have yet to find a single Libyan who really cares about elections any more as everyone is busy solving at least two problems every day and none of them is easily solved!

(The author is a noted Libyan academic, award winning journalist & analyst)

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