Let’s Do It! Libya: Organising their First Clean-up Despite of the Ongoing Crisis

Date: 01.04.2015

Solid waste management is an acute environmental problem for many developing countries including Libya. The country joined the Let’s Do It! movement in November 2014, after being in midst of the Libyan Revolution since 2011. Now, despite the confusing times, the activists are dedicated to organise the country’s first Let’s Do It! cleanup action.

Currently the country is governed by two rival governments, one in the east and the other in the west. We talked with Hamed M. Abufares, the regional coordinator of Let’s Do It! Libya about the daunting obstacles they face when organising their very first clean-up action. 

Clean-ups as a regular part of life in war-zones

Libya is a large country with a relatively small population – roughly 6,2 million (2014 est.) – which is mostly concentrated very narrowly along the coast. In fact, it has the longest coast of any African country in the Mediterranean, which stretches ca. 2000 kilometers. Because of these geographical particularities of the country, the Libyan team has set as a goal to organise their first clean-up action in the 14 coastal cities of Libya. However, Hamed admits that it is not yet certain whether the clean-up will happen in all 14 cities or in only 12, because of the ongoing fighting in some areas. At the moment the biggest obstacle that the Libyan team faces is the security problem.

He is certain that the political turbulence in the country won’t influence people’s openness and willingness to the idea of taking part in a civil movement such as Let’s Do It! He says that during the current crisis, people gather in the areas like Benghazi (which experience real war activity – ed), during the peaceful period that lasts about a week, to clean-up the damaged areas. They do this without any coordinators and without Let’s Do It! Libya or any other national NGOs. This is a part of their daily lives and they know that nobody else other than themselves will clean it up. Thus Hamed argues that security won’t be a problem for the Libyan citizens – they are right now living daily in the midst of crisis. 

Lacking infrastructure for recycling

“When I spoke about this to my relatives and other close people, they said we need this more frequently than only once a year, as we don’t have recycling, and we consume a lot in our daily lives. The infrastructure is quite bad in Libya, as from 1970s for the last 45 years, the successive governments have failed to set up an adequate infrastructure despite the financial ability to do so, such as adapting the system for recycling similar to the EU countries,” he says. Thus at the moment there is a lack of environmental planning and management that would enable to reduce solid waste pollution.

Especially municipal solid waste is a big problem as Libya lacks a consistent waste recycling practice. The statistics of waste production is staggering: Libyans create for a total of 6,000,000 habitants 6000 tons of waste daily. Hamed explains, “In Libya we don’t have any consistent practice for the recycling of solid waste, so the biggest garbage problem is solid waste in general: household, commercial, industrial, and medical waste, chemical and hazardous waste, electronic waste, which are toxic and dangerous.” 

Planning the big event

Libya will be organising their clean-up day for the 10th of October 2015. Hamed explains, “Currently we have two teams, the core team and the coordination team, in which we have 6 people, and about 20 more volunteers, but we are constantly growing as a team.”

However Hamed adds, that they are not planning to do it alone, “Thanks to our public relations specialist in Libya we have several connections in each city, among them many associations and civil society organisations that can help us increase the number of volunteers”, Hamed assures. For example the action is going to join forces with another campaign that was established seven years ago and is called “The Campaign for Sea and Sun”, which will arrange parallel events to the clean-up day in October. “Last year this campaign gathered more than 6000 volunteers for cleaning the sea, so taking into consideration the current situation in Libya, if we gather 3000 – 5000 volunteers it would be a great result and, in fact, we hope this number will be even bigger,” he shares.

The team plans to organise a small conference with key speakers and workshops, a training camp for regional coordinators, and for promoting the cleanup event. Hamed also sees the utilisation of social media and involving the universities as important players in succeeding.

“In Libya we don’t have any database about the shore and coastal pollution, so we are thinking of compiling a small evaluation form to be completed by our regional coordinators, supported by pictures from each city to evaluate the situation. This will help us decide in which part of the city we must start and which areas to take into consideration for future cleanups,” he adds. In May the team is dedicated to doing a pilot cleanup to support the Let’s Do It, Mediterranean! action. This will serve as good way to practice and network with other Let’s Do It! teams abroad.

Hamed promises that after the collection of the waste during the cleanup campaign, it will all be properly recycled. This would be something new in Libya and the previous cleanup actions have failed to safely dispose of the collected waste. Usually after cleaning the trash, they have simply put the waste into garbage dumps. He explains how this will be made possible: “We cooperate with two small recyclers in Libya, so this will be a prototype project for implementing recycling in Libya. With this action we are trying to raise awareness about cleaning and recycling.” 

Dreams of a brighter future for Libya

Hamed has high personal motivation for developing his country’s infrastructures and environmental sustainability: “In 2014 when I first came to Italy to study, I had a course on next generation infrastructure, which was all about creating infrastructure that would be sustainable for the environment in the long term. These ideas pushed me to do something good for my country, to bring about a change. So I decided to gather people who are interested in these arguments to organise a Let’s Do It! action in Libya,” he explains his motives.

“We have three major targets: first, seeing our shores and beaches as clean as the rest of the Mediterranean; second getting the living areas clean; and third, using this to promote once again tourism growth to Libya,” he lists the more concrete targets.

He hopes that the cleanup would enforce the development of a recycling system in Libya: “The current mentality in Libya is that there is a lack of interest in recycling. There might be small projects of this type in some cities, but in general recycling as such doesn’t exist. So we need to involve our civil society and country to implement these ideas.” 

According to him, some of the public thinks that in reality NGOs do nothing. “We need to make them understand the aim and the purpose of these international cleaning campaigns and push the people to join us. With this cleanup we are going to show to the people and the next government, how we can together bring about a change. We need to do initiatives like Let’s Do It! to raise the awareness of the people about waste-related problems, and not only in Libya, but also in the Mediterranean, this continent, and all over the world, because we are a part of this problem and we are the ones who need to do something about it.”

If you are interested to find out more about our new Let’s do it! Libya team, check out their page on Facebook.


By Heidi Koolmeister (Project Leader of the Newsletter of Let’s Do It! World)