Our miserable life in Libya

In Tripoli people queue at Bank for money [Photo: Social Media]

To say the lives of Libyans since their so called revolution in 2011 has been 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 and 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 so easy for the majority of people. Today’s Libya is a little bit of Somalia, Iraq, and Yemen combined together however differently.

This is a recent look at life in the capital Tripoli where it should much easier than in interior of the country where things are much worse.

Just imagine spending between 7 and 9 hours on average everyday without electricity while the average temperature is 40 degrees Celsius and humidity standing at around 60% or higher in the summer! On top of that you go to the bank maybe twice a week to get some money and after waiting for hours in the scorching Tripoli sun you are told there is none! It’s your money but still, you can not 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 so you contact the plumber to come and fix it. He demands cash payment – most likely he is an illegal worker with no bank account. You let the sink dribbles on as you think of saving whatever cash you have for something more important in a country where cash dominates the economy so every payment is made in cash!

Lately some shops started accepting payment cards and checks but only at 30% higher than the cash price and sometimes even higher hike in prices. You demand an explanation from the grocery or any other shopkeeper and his answer is usually this: unfortunately, this is what we have and if you do not like it we can not do anything about it! Unless of course he knows you and trusts you enough to accept checks. But how many people will he know and trust?

If you are having a bad day and end up seeking medical help your problems will only multiply. You go a public hospital seeking treatment but you only find a doctor who sees you after waiting for at least two hours. You are lucky if you only walk away with simple prescription however it will cost you a great deal of cash! remember the cash is a red line for you not for medicine though! And Remember that before the 2011 revolution you as a Libyan used to get a medical checkup and the medicine at half price or completely free at any public hospital.

If you really have a bad luck your condition will require serious medical intervention. Because all public hospitals which used to treat people for free are almost desert and lacking the basic things such as simple injection, simple pain killers and of course electricity in most of them.

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 everything the doctor needs! This will bring you back to the issue of cash again! You could have gone to a private clinic (most of them illegally operating) but the cost is prohibitive! At least in the public hospital, the doctor will operate on you free of charge however at his own convenience!

In case things get worse and you are advised to seek medical treatment abroad then you are going through hell itself.

First, you have very little choices as where to go since all European countries require visas and to get one you have to spend a huge sum in cash again to get the visa, 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 the question and you are left only with three choices Egypt, Jordan or Tunisia; the only three countries where visas are not prerequisite as you can get them on arrival except for Tunisia where no visa is required.

Then you have to think about the financial side of things. To go abroad for medical treatment means you would need at least five thousand USD. To get such a figure nowadays in Libya you would need to buy it at the black market at the prevailing rate. For the last nine months or so the Libyan dinar has devalued against all other currencies. You are lucky if you can get the five thousand figure for, say, 42 thousand Libyan dinars! Recall here again the chronical cash problem and of course that the average income in Libya is about 500 LYD or about 60 USD. Before the “revolution” it income averaged around USD 300 while the exchange rate was around 1.3 LYD to the dollar. At the same time, you used to buy almost everything at subsidized prices supported by the government including hard currency for serious matters like medical treatment abroad.

This depreciation of the Libyan Dinar has led to a multitude of other problems. Prices of daily consumer goods have increased by some 200% and in some cases by 500% in less than five months in 2017 while some goods are no longer available because their prices have become so high that shop keepers 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 classes, reasonable perfume or shampoo. A one-liter bottle of olive oil costs around 15 LYD while a good suite would cost you around 1500 LYD and nice shoes should be available for 400 LYD so people learned to go without such things. One baguette now costs 5 times what it used to be six years ago while one kilo of fresh meat costs three times what it used to be then. Bread is the staple of the day for every family.

As a Libyan you are likely to remember as a distant memory the time, just before six years, when USD=1.3 LYD and in the case of medical needs you are likely to get it cheaper from the central bank in case your condition does not meet the criteria for free medical treatment abroad! Bread used to cost less than 10 LYD cents.

So no wonder that many people who had to go abroad for medical emergencies had to sell their cars and sometimes their homes to have enough cash for their treat. No wonder very few Libyans travel for medical treatment let alone for leisure!

The other day a friend commented to me by saying “if you get sick pray to God that it is a simple matter or if not then pray that you die quickly as 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 just called for a new election for next March while the other said no! I have yet to find a single Libya who really cares about elections anymore as everyone is busy solving at least two problems every day and none of them is easily solved!

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Libyan Express.
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