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I. Azzuz: UPF Peace Talks - Libya: Turmoil & Pandemic

UPF Peace Talks Message - April 24, 2020
Topic: Governance Challenges in the Era of the Coronavirus


Dr. Intisar Azzuz
Advisor to the President of the Presidential Council of Libya on Women's Affairs

Libya: Turmoil & Pandemic 


Good morning or good evening, wherever the distinguished participants are. I’m honored to be invited and have the opportunity to speak to you.

Today is a special day for over a billion Muslims around the world. It is the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, a month of fasting from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset.

But it is more than just refraining from eating, drinking, or smoking. It is about exercising self-discipline, patience, compassion, prayers, peace, charity and service to others.

This Ramadan is different from many others in my lifetime. The pandemic that the world is living through, despite the severity and suffering it has brought, has taught us to return to our basic human values that we have been too busy in our pursuit of material things to recognize. In a very short time, it has taught us to look at life differently, to recognize the value of simple things in life, like spending time with family and friends, going out, taking a walk, going to a social event, travel, eating at a restaurant. We took for granted these and many other things, not stopping to appreciate or thank the Lord for the gift of life, for everyday of living, for our health, and for our family and friends.

In my country, Libya, like all countries around the world, there is deep concern about Covid-19. A country of 6 million people, it has gone through a lot of turmoil over the past nine years since the former regime was overthrown. This turmoil has broken into fights, civil war, death and destruction, resulting in hundreds of thousands of displaced people, decaying infrastructure and a poorly equipped medical system to cope even without an epidemic.

Yet despite all that, incidents of Covid-19 remain very low compared even with those in neighboring countries. To date less than 70 cases have been registered in Libya.

How did this happen?

Since the outbreak of infections, the government took a bold step to close its borders to all travel. Airports were shut down, and no one was allowed in with very few exceptions from land borders. This shutdown is 6 weeks old and continues today. This, of course, has left many Libyans stranded who were traveling outside the country. My husband and I are among them since we happened to be in Istanbul at the time. Within days, arrangements were made by Libyan embassies and consulates to house these stranded people in hotels. In Turkey, for example, 11 hotels were used to house some 2,000 Libyans who were in Turkey for business, travel or medical treatment. Most have been examined in the past week for infections, and those found negative are housed in airport hotels for 14 days until arrangements can be made to bring them back to Libya in charter flights.

Despite the heavy cost of housing them in hotels, this should be less costly than allowing potentially infected people to return to Libya and spread infections since Libya lacks facilities to keep the quarantined for the two-week period. Local hotels in Libya are full of displaced people, as I noted before. More displaced people are housed in schools and shelters. You can appreciate the predicament of the situation.

While the situation of the pandemic is seemingly under control in Libya for now, a difficult situation looms in Africa. Today the Washington Post reported:

Africa’s reported number of coronavirus cases soared by more than 40 percent in the last week, stoking concerns that the continent could become the epicenter of the pandemic at a time when hunger is rising and doctors fear a resurgence of malaria deaths. The virus threatens to kill more than 300,000 people in Africa, according to a United Nations estimate, and plunge tens of millions more into poverty.

We should be aware of this and hopefully the world community will help, knowing that problems are everywhere.

The Coronavirus pandemic has taught us in a very short time that we are all interconnected in a global world. This is something that climate scientists has failed to convince many of us, even leaders of major country, that we share the same environment which is under serious threat due to our activities that threaten the environment. For years, climate scientists have been calling on governments to reduce emissions to lessen the likely catastrophic toll global warming will cause to people in the future.

We all hope and pray that a cure and vaccines are found quickly for this unprecedented epidemic, but we also hope that the lessons we learn, among them that we are one human family, that we should spend more on people’s needs and welfare and less on weapons of war and destruction, more on opportunities for all rather than accumulation of extreme wealth for the very few, that we should value more those who serve humanity such as doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, community workers, rather than celebrities and athletes. We hope that these lessons we are learning now are not soon forgotten.

Thank you for your time. Thank you for listening.

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