GENEVA (Reuters) - Pro-Gaddafi forces in Sirte have cut two-thirds of the water supply to Tripoli, according to a report by the European Union's humanitarian office (ECHO) obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.
Water is in short supply in the Libyan capital, forcing aid agencies to bring tankers by land and sea to keep the Libyan capital functioning.
Most of the city's water is supplied by the massive "Great man-made river," a huge civil engineering project built under Muammar Gaddafi that pumps out water from under the Sahara desert.
"The valve allowing the transfer of 200,000 cubic meters (a day) from the Eastern system is in Sirte, and GF (Gaddafi forces) are keeping it closed," the ECHO report said.
Another 100,000 cubic meters a day was coming from 30 wells, but a lack of water had forced a shutdown of the secondary network serving rural areas around Tripoli. "Some suburbs have been completely out of water for the last 3 days," it said.
The United Nations human rights spokesman in Geneva, Rupert Colville, said that shutting off the water supply could possibly be classified as a crime against humanity.
"I haven't heard any reports that it has been deliberately cut off. But it could be. Water is a life-sustaining essential," Colville told a news briefing.
"If someone deliberately cut off the water supply with the intention of killing people, that could be an international crime, probably a crime against humanity. But I see no suggestion of that at this point," he said.
The ECHO report said some water was being trucked from public wells in and around Tripoli, where many houses -- except in the old town and the center near the port -- still have private wells.
But the water from these wells was too saline to be used for drinking, it added. Shops and supermarkets were slowly reopening and bottled water was still available, but at a very high price.
Separately, the Rome-based World Food Programme (WFP) said one of its vessels carrying 500,000 liters of water on behalf of the U.N. children's agency UNICEF was on its way from Malta to Tripoli.
(Reporting by Tom Miles)