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Libya: 2021 Multi-Sector Needs Assessment (MSNA), Libyan Population (May 2022)

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For Libya, most of the year 2021 was characterised by continuous peacebuilding and unification efforts, built on the peace agreement reached in October 2020. In 2021, some positive developments related to liquidity took place, such as the devaluation of the Libyan dinar. This increased the availability of cash, yet liquidity issues remained, especially in the South and East. Indeed, the country’s protracted conflict has resulted in significant economic challenges overall. Moreover, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has been steadily declining in Libya since the end of the siege on Tripoli around June 2020. Nonetheless, the return rate does appear to be plateauing to some extent. Furthermore, throughout the year 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic kept on impacting the fragmented health system, as well as the overall safety and economic situation of the country – adding an additional layer of complexity to the Libyan crisis.

As humanitarian information gaps for displaced and non-displaced populations in Libya remain, especially with the country’s political, economic, and social landscapes constantly evolving, REACH, in coordination with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), on behalf of the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT), Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) and Assessment Working Group (AWG), conducted the 2021 Multi-Sector Needs Assessment (MSNA). The aim of this assessment is to inform humanitarian actors of the current needs that exist among Libyans, and to have the MSNA data feeding into the 2022 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO), contributing to evidence-based humanitarian response planning.

This MSNA considers the situation among Libyan non-displaced, IDP, and returnee households in baladiyas across the country, while the vulnerabilities and needs of refugees and migrants residing in Libya were assessed in a separate MSNA.8 The MSNA uses a mixed-method approach, consisting of an initial quantitative phase involving household-level surveys and a follow-up qualitative phase that was built on key informant interviews (KIIs) and focus group discussions (FDGs). The scope of the quantitative data collection included 8,871 households across a selection of 45 baladiyas (about equally spread across Libya’s three regions), conducted over the phone due to COVID-19 mitigation measures, between 14 June and 2 August 2021. Sampling was primarily purposive, with quotas for each population group per baladiya, delivering findings that are indicative, rather than representative. To address the possible overrepresentation of the more vulnerable households due this sampling method, 1,010 household surveys (of the total number) were carried out via random digit dialling (RDD) – randomly dialling phone numbers to reach a random sample of the population (having working cell phones). This quantitative data was supplemented and triangulated with data from 88 KIIs, for which the selection of topics and locations was informed by the household surveys’ findings. This resulted in both the quantitative and qualitative part of this assessment being focused on protection, health, and food security. Additionally, the more sensitive topics of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) and access to services (including GBV) were covered through KIIs, as well as through 34 FGDs.

On the whole, 51% of assessed households were found to have humanitarian needs, of which 34% had severe needs and 17% extreme needs. These humanitarian needs were primarily driven by needs in two sectors, as almost half of households with an overall need were found to have protection needs (46%), and more than one third to have health needs (38%). Furthermore, many households were having needs in one sector only, as opposed to co-occurring sectoral needs. This was most often the case for households with protection needs, as 41% of households with this type of needs did not have any other sectoral need(s).

Overall, returnee households appeared as the population group having the highest proportion of households in need across all sectors (63%). Geographically, the Libyan region with the highest proportion of households in need was found to be the South (67%), followed by the Eastern (61%) and Western region (44%). Households’ humanitarian needs were most often found to be related to protection and health, followed by food security. The main drivers causing these sectoral needs were missing documentation as well as a feeling of unsafety creating protection needs, and financial issues resulting in an unaffordability to sufficiently cover health and food needs.

Protection needs were the most often found sectoral needs among assessed households (23%) and mainly dominated in the South, where one third of the interviewed households (33%) had protection needs. These needs were found to be primarily driven by a lack of documentation, with 17% of households overall reporting that at least one of their members did not have a valid ID. This finding was highest in the South (26%), where 55% of households also reported having safety and security concerns, and 23% noted concerns that were specifically related to armed conflict. The baladiyas Wadi Etba and Ubari stood out especially, with respectively 59% and 57% of households found to have protection needs. KIs from these baladiyas, as well as from Alghrayfa (all three located in the South) reported having perceived an improvement in the security situation compared to the year prior to the assessment. Here, the main safety and security concerns reported were petty crimes (such as robberies), while risks related to travelling outside the municipality were also often mentioned. Official law enforcement agencies such as the police were reported as the main security agent overall, while tribes were pointed out as also having an important role in conflict resolution and maintaining stability within the community. Furthermore, women in southern Libya were found to be facing several, accumulating barriers to access basic services. According to KIs and FGD participants, early marriage, financial issues together with high prices, an unavailability of specialised health services, cultural barriers related to gender norms, and issues to accessing banking and legal services, created multi-layered struggles for women to access education, healthcare, and livelihoods.

Health needs were found to be mainly driven by economic barriers, together with a lack of facilities and capacity, and COVID-19 related challenges. Overall, 20% of households were found to have health needs. Of the 28% of households that reportedly needed healthcare in the three months prior to data collection, 56% reported that at least one household member had not been able to access the healthcare he/she needed, which is 14% of the total sample assessed. Among this sub-group, the overwhelming majority (70%) reported an inability to afford health services as the main barrier hindering their access to healthcare. Furthermore, among those households that had not needed healthcare in the previous months, or needed it and were able to access it, 37% reported having faced or expecting to face barriers to accessing healthcare. This was mainly due to an inability to afford services, but also because of a poor quality of services, lack of medicines, lack of trust, and overcrowding of health facilities.

The highest proportion of households with health needs was found in Ghiryan, located in the Western region (50%). Here, 43% of households reported they had not been able to access the healthcare they needed in the 3 months prior to data collection. Ghiryan was one of the three baladiyas (together with Alsharguiya and Algurdha Ashshati) were KIIs about health were conducted. In these locations, the high cost of treatment, especially at private clinics, together with the liquidity crisis, were among the commonly reported main barriers to accessing healthcare. Moreover, problems related to the capacity of health centres, caused by understaffing, lack of medicines, and shortages of equipment were also frequently highlighted by KIs, especially in the South. In Alsharguiya, in particular, poor access to healthcare was often reported, as well as the non-availability of specialised services, mainly due to a lack of staff together with insufficient training of the available personnel.

The South of Libya was found to have the highest proportion of households facing food security needs (27%), compared to the country overall (13%). Moreover, findings indicate that IDP and returnee households tend to be more exposed to food insecurity than non-displaced households, as results demonstrate that 22% of the first two population groups had food security needs. The main driver of many sectoral needs appeared to be the inability to financially cover all essential expenses. Regarding essential food needs, more than a quarter of assessed households (26%) reported having experienced trouble in meeting these in the month prior to the interview because of unaffordability.

This was more commonly reported by displaced households (37% of returnee and 34% of IDP households), compared to 24% of non-displaced households, and households located in the East (39%), followed by those in the South (29%) and West (19%). Furthermore, the Southern region displayed the highest proportion (6%) of households that had to reduce (totally or partially) agricultural activities in the year prior to the surveys (October 2020 to September 2021). Qualitative findings from 18 KIIs conducted in Gemienis, Suloug and Toukra (all three baladiyas located in the East) indicated that the financial situation was indeed paramount in causing food insecurity. According to the majority of KIs, food insecurity for Libyan households had increased significantly throughout the year prior to the interviews. This was allegedly explained by households’ decreased income, together with the high prices of imported food products in markets. Reflecting this, households relying on daily wages were commonly perceived as the most affected group, whose livelihoods were also especially impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

In general, the main driver of many sectoral needs in Libya appeared to be the unaffordability to cover all essential expenses. MSNA findings show that, overall, 53% of households reported they had been unable to cover all their basic needs in the month prior to data collection. This was especially true for essential health and food needs, with more than a quarter of assessed households found to be unable to meet these essential needs. More specifically, households residing in the South and displaced households (both IDPs and returnees) were most commonly found to be unable to cover at least one of their essential needs. Additionally, 61% of households explained to have experienced issues in obtaining sufficient cash. Among households with at least one member who had faced difficulties accessing markets in the month prior to the survey, mainly displaced households (58% of returnees and 57% of IDPs) reported the lack of access to cash as (one of) the reason(s) for this.

A widespread use of coping mechanisms was found across Libya, as only about one fourth of assessed households reportedly did not have to rely on (and had not yet exhausted) any type of livelihood coping strategies during the month before the survey took place, to meet their basic needs. Non-displaced households appeared to rely on emergency coping strategies to an equal degree as returnee households. Moreover, four of the five baladiyas with the highest proportions of households reportedly having employed (or exhausted) emergency coping mechanisms were located in the West.

Here, a trend of diminishing purchasing power seemed to affect households, although this region was found to have lower levels of unmet essential (food) needs. These findings suggest that many of the Libyan population overall were struggling to meet their basic needs indeed, as being able to do so by employing negative coping strategies, is not a sustainable way to maintain acceptable living standards.

Overall, needs in Libya were found to be mostly driven by underlying structural factors, such as economic difficulties, as well as infrastructural deficiencies consequential to the protracted conflict. While the country is increasingly transitioning from a situation of acute humanitarian needs towards a recovery and stabilisation context, protracted needs seem to remain across Libya, with about half of the interviewed households found to have unmet humanitarian needs in at least one sector.