High life expectancy in Libya remains elusive and nowhere near close to a panacea. You can take the pulse of a society by looking at its life expectancy figures. A rising life expectancy curve is a positive sign, which means a steady curve implies a stable society. However, Libya’s curve has not been smooth, reflecting a rocky path ahead for the country.
This article will discuss Libya’s life expectancy, how it compares to its nearby neighbors, and how it limped along during autocratic rule. We looked at some data from the World Health Organization (WHO) to see some patterns and what might happen next.
What is the life expectancy in Libya?
Life expectancy is an average estimate of how long a particular group of people will live. The WHO’s recent assessment of life expectancy in Libya is 71.9 years old—75 years old for women and 69 years old for men. This estimate is not surprising because women live slightly longer than men worldwide, and Libya reflects this trend.
However, do note that different groups in Libya will have various life expectancies. For example, marginalized groups, especially minorities, tend to have lower life expectancies.
How does life expectancy in Libya compare?
Libya has a low life expectancy compared to many of its neighbors in North Africa. Its neighbor, Tunisia, is leading ahead, with the life expectancy of its people estimated at 72.3 years. Another country, Algeria, also beats the average life expectancy in Libya. However, Libyan life expectancy slightly exceeds the figure in Egypt, but the margin is narrow.
When compared to other war-torn countries in the region, Libyan life expectancy performs quite well. For instance, the life expectancy estimate in Somalia can go as low as 55 years old. Libyans can also expect to live longer than their counterparts in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
But when compared to oil-rich nations, Libya’s life expectancy is nowhere close. For example, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia perform much better than Libya. Kuwait has an average life expectancy of 73.4 years despite Libya’s significant oil reserves. If Libya has stable political and economic landscapes, the country could aim for higher life expectancies similar to other wealthier gulf states. However, this isn’t easy to achieve in the short-term.
How does the Libyan state affected life expectancy?
Libya became independent in 1951, with a life expectancy of only 35. Although the Libyan is considered a “resource-rich” country thanks to its oil reserves, its population remained below the poverty line. Life expectancy increase between 1950 and 1969 remained low despite being in step with neighboring countries engulfed in conflicts in the region.
The early years of the revolutionary regime saw growth in life expectancy. The increase was still modest. The year-on-year percentage increase in life expectancy was smaller than in the late 1960s, but the curve was steady. The government made investments in public healthcare, but such improvements did not make up for a post-revolutionary state’s problematic conditions.
The 2011 war put an end to this modestly increasing life expectancy trend. Between 2009 and 2013, life expectancy decreased slightly and was around 0.3% only. Do note, however, that a small percentage decrease like this is significant. Advances in medicine and technology are supposed to increase people’s longevity, but conflicts adversely affect overall life expectancy. As conflicts end, tiny increases in life expectancy resumed.
Life expectancy in Libya under Gaddafi: Why was the rise so modest?
When General Muammar Gaddafi came to power after the 1969 uprising, he aligned the country with the USSR during the Cold War era and promoted communist ideals in Libya. He was a famous, populist leader in Libya but was frowned upon by the western world. He nationalized significant industries, including free healthcare for all. This executive action is the opposite of capitalistic democracies.
Despite massive investments in healthcare, increases in life expectancy remained minuscule. Between 1970 and 1978, percentage increases were only between 1% and 2% and began to experience a continued drop in the succeeding years. Experts attribute this drop to the country’s leadership and the constant upheavals it experienced. After a revolution, services and supplies get disrupted, and the newly instituted regime takes time to establish. It fills the political vacuum, and health reforms, among many other crucial national reform issues, were put in the back seat did not take effect right away.
In addition to these disruptions, General Gaddafi also became more erratic and focused his foreign policy attention.
What are the biggest influences on life expectancy in Libya?
In 2018, the WHO said that the primary cause of mortality among Libyans is coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease is responsible for 25.9% of deaths in Libya. This mortality percentage is high by global standards. Lack of access to a healthy diet contributes to this problem. If heart problems are reduced, Libyan life expectancy could increase significantly.
In Libya, there are high rates of obesity and a preference for cholesterol-filled food. Traditional diets that include couscous, chickpeas, broad beans, and fresh produce, for example, are difficult to sustain in the country. Importing fresh food is also tricky, and this negatively impacts the Libyan diet.
Libya has the third-highest rate of Kidney disease in the world. The disease often evolves in patients with high blood pressure or diabetes. Poor access to healthy food is a significant contributor to both of these conditions. A more stable economy in Libya may bring better import networks for fruit and vegetables. More fresh fruit and vegetables could increase people’s life expectancy.
Another health problem is the higher rate of smoking among Libyan adults. Data shows that Libyan adults consume tobacco-related products at a relatively higher rate than their European counterparts. Roughly 25% of adult men in Libya use tobacco daily, while women smokers’ ratio is much lower. However, Libyans are aware of the risks associated with tobacco use. Many adults in Libya have stopped smoking independently. A working system for preventative care would be a significant asset to reduce tobacco-related deaths.
Healthy lifestyle choices are not always available for the Libyans. And because of this seeming lack of options, medical practitioners expressed massive concerns. Health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, Kidney disease, and Lung disease could have been avoided with preventative care. Less smoking and healthy diets could be reduced.
Next to heart attacks, wars or conflicts is a significant cause of Libyan mortality. As war or any other form of conflict negatively affects any country or community, Libya is not exempt from its detrimental effects on life expectancy. War-related deaths account for approximately 11% of mortality, although these remain unpredictable. More young people die in war than any disease-caused deaths. Instead of living longer and die from natural causes, young people are more prone to suffer death during wartime.
How is deprivation affected life expectancy in Libya?
The extent of Libya’s internal and external problems are challenging to measure. Tension persists, and conducting accurate surveys may pose difficulties. WHO data shows that over 1 million Libyans suffered from hunger in the last decade. A total of 650,000 people have had intermittent access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitary facilities. These deprivations cause a host of health problems that do not get resolved quickly.
The conflict has caused physical injuries to 30,000 people in Libya. Some were injured during the fighting, but more people fleeing were the most affected. Libyans may take decades to recover from their injuries, and some will be permanent. This problem will put pressure on life expectancy figures. We can’t yet say what the long term damages will be.
Average Life Length in Lybia/Libya: The outlook
The outlook for higher life expectancy in Libya remains rather bleak if not uncertain. However, there seems to be some silver lining ahead. Nowadays, an increasing number of Libyans have access to basic sanitation at this stage, while others are slowly gaining access to the food supply. However, this may not be the standard and healthy food one might expect to consume. Childhood vaccination rates are relatively high.
In terms of literacy, Libyans are generally literate and well-educated. Whenever it is available and practical, they can participate and pay for healthcare. Their reduced smoking rates show their engagement.
Unfortunately, instability is not over in Libya. Systematic instability is a contributor to most life-limiting conditions in Libya. There are currently two governments claiming to rule Libya. One is based in Tobruk, and one in Tripoli. Resolution to the dispute needs to come. Once peace arrives, hopefully, Libyans can look forward to a longer old age.
Life expectancy in Libya has risen from roughly 35- 72 years old. This is a significant and positive change. It has taken 70 years to achieve, however. Almost all of the pressure on life expectancy in Libya could be relieved by stability. Healthier food, preventative care, and the absence of war would help a great deal.
The greatest threat to life expectancy in Libya is further conflict. Regime change in 1969 had mixed effects. Unfortunately, future war is a real possibility.