Gadhafi loyalists blamed for Tripoli water crisis

AP News
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Posted: Aug 30, 2011 1:26 PM
Gadhafi loyalists blamed for Tripoli water crisis

Attacks by Moammar Gadhafi's forces on engineers deep in the Libyan desert caused the massive water shortage that has left the capital without running water for a week, a rebel official said Tuesday.

Regime forces fired on repair crews a week ago as they tried to restart pumps bringing water from deep acquifers some 700 kilometers (450 miles) south of Tripoli, the official, Aref Ali Nayeb, told The Associated Press.

The water from those acquifers feeds a vast water network that supplies the capital, Nayeb said. The security situation in the remote area around the wells remains unstable, but rebel leaders are trying to find a way to send repair crews back to the desert site, known as Jebel Hassouna, he said.

In the meantime, drinking water is reaching Tripoli in trucks from other towns and in shipments of bottled water, some from neighboring Tunisia, said Nayeb, who heads the Libya Stabilization Team. The Stabilization Team is a group of professionals assisting the fledgling government being set up to replace Gadhafi's crumbling regime. City residents are also using neighborhood wells, he said.

Most of the city's residents are now able to get drinking water, though bathing remains a luxury.

Officials with the European Union's humanitarian aid office said it will bring in more tankers and bottled water if they are needed.

"According to the information received by our experts, the pumping stations in Jebel Hassouna were closed by government forces when they where fleeing from the capital," Irina Novakova, a spokeswoman for the aid unit, said in an email to AP.

"We understand that efforts are ongoing to restart the water distribution system, but the security situation along the road to the pumping stations is unpredictable," Novakova said.

Nayeb said the problem started when retreating Gadhafi forces intentionally brought down power lines, disrupting the flow of electricity. After engineers got the grid working again, they had to reset the desert water pumps individually.

A week ago, crews working on the pumps came under fire by Gadhafi forces, he said, adding that it's not yet clear when repair crews will be able to return.

Loyalist forces "still have harassment capabilities in the area, and we need to make sure this is neutralized," before the crews can return, he said.

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Associated Press writer Frank Jordans in Geneva, Switzerland contributed reporting.