Libyans marked the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the feast that ends the month of Ramadan, with prayers and celebrations at the downfall of Colonel Muammer Gaddafi.

But while the colonel is on the run, he and his sympathisers still cast their shadow over life in the capital.

The limits of the new rulers’ control over vast tracts of Libya is highlighted by the water shortage that has plagued Tripoli in the 10 days since rebels took over.

According to two people working for the National Transitional Council, this is caused by Gaddafi loyalists cutting the water supply near its main source far south in the Libyan desert.

Pro-Gaddafi forces still active in the region around the city of Sabha have stopped the flow of water north to Tripoli through a pipeline hundreds of kilometres long known as the Great Man-Made River, they say.

The allegations add to the mystery around a shortage that has denied some Tripoli residents supplies for more than a week and left them dependent on neighbours’ wells and the water tankers now criss-crossing the city.

Rashid Swani, member of a stabilisation team set up by the rebel National Transitional Council, said the water shutdown stemmed from the continuing war in parts of the country such as Sabha and Sirte, Col Gaddafi’s home town and also an important link in the national water network.

Libya water pipeline map

Mr Swani said: “Gaddafi sent some people to the desert to Sabha to turn off the source. Nobody knows what is happening there.”

The NTC’s lack of control over Libya’s southern deserts, including Sabha, was underscored on Monday when Col Gaddafi's wife and three of his children fled into Algeria.

Abdurrahim El-Keib, an NTC member, backed up the allegations, saying this account of the water crisis was “basically right”. He added that the NTC was considering several responses, including military action to take over the area around Sabha, although there were concerns that this could lead to damage to the infrastructure.

“What worries me is if they demolish something like a control room, or something more serious like that. That’s why the military solution has been a bit delayed,” he said.

He added that the problems now facing Tripoli showed the incompetence of the Gaddafi government and its ill-preparedness for failures of basic services.

Water has been a historic problem in a country that, though thinly populated, is large and mainly desert, meaning that the resource is both scarce and often has to be transported over vast distances.

Mr Keib said: “It just makes you wonder how this past regime was looking at this. They never had a crisis management programme for anything.”

The allegations of sabotage by Gaddafi forces could not be independently confirmed and may be seen by some sceptical observers as a convenient excuse while the NTC scrambles to show it is fit for government.

Other NTC officials have suggested the water problem is merely technical, while residents near a main pumping station on the outskirts of Tripoli said at the weekend that rebels had temporarily switched off the supply pending the results of chemical tests to see if Gaddafi loyalists had poisoned it.

Some Tripoli residents say the water crisis has been mitigated because the capital’s past problems with supply mean many neighbourhoods have wells they sank long ago.

Get alerts on Libya in transition when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article