On any given day, 1415 – a Tripoli-based civil society organization – may receive up to 1,000 telephone calls from local citizens. Citizens are calling to ask for ambulance services at a traffic accident or to report a fire, but the team also receives requests for help with unexploded ordnances, infrastructure damage, inquiries about COVID-19 symptoms and precautionary measures to take, or even information about other administrative or service contacts. Since Libya lacks informative emergency services, Mohamed Abuhelgha, who leads a team of 16 volunteers and part-time staff at the Tripoli-based 1415 call centre, has to ensure that someone is present to answer each and every one of these calls, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The European Union supports 1415 in making this possible.
For local Libyans, 1415 fills a much-needed gap in emergency support. Since the outbreak of violence in 2014, and the renewed conflict in and around Tripoli in April 2019, ordinary Libyans face public safety issues beyond the occasional crime, injury or traffic accident. Explosive remnants of war lie scattered in some residential neighbourhoods, basic medical and service provisions are lacking, and long electricity and network cuts are commonplace. Before 1415, there was no centralized hotline for Libyans to call to report these issues.
Since its founding in 2014, 1415 has become the go-to hotline for local citizens in Tripoli. Unlike traditional emergency services, 1415 is a centralized toll-free number that local residents can call for almost any inquiry. Mohamed’s team receives the calls and ensures the requests are transferred to the right service provider. In special circumstances, 1415 has also managed to connect citizens in need with financial support when they could not afford an emergency service. For example, on 1415’s Facebook page, a story was shared by a woman needing an ambulance while being unable to afford the cost of 3,500 dinars. 1415 reached out to a philanthropist in its network and within “minutes” was able to get an ambulance to her door.
The organization began as a small team, when Mohamed was working as the Executive Director for the Crisis Committee at the Tripoli Grand Council. A former petroleum engineer, Mohamed was drawn to helping local Libyans when he realized that due to the conflict, many civilians were dealing with hazardous situations and emergencies on a regular basis, without necessarily knowing the right place to go for support. So, he set up a small call office with a couple of friends where they would take calls and transfer the requests by walkie talkie to the necessary emergency service. Today, 1415 has a staff of 16 volunteers, an online application where people can make reports, and a strong network across 13 municipalities in and around Tripoli. Over the first three years – even without any marketing for their organization – 1415 received around 10,000 reports each month. Mohamed takes pride in his team and provides training to volunteers and new staff members on procedures and reporting given the sensitivities of their work.
COVID-19 - 1415 steps in
Mohamed’s team has built a critical network of communication and cooperation with local municipalities and service providers across Tripoli, as well as among the local community. Therefore, in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck Libya, 1415 became the central provider of emergency communication up until the creation of the official Health authorities’ hotline. Their established connections to public health providers and the municipalities allowed 1415 to share information from the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) directly to the local population.
In spring 2020, the lockdown and curfews prevented many Libyans from accessing medical services. Most clinics and medical centres were closed, and citizens were left scared and uncertain of where to turn for support. Mohamed’s team responded quickly gathering a list of local and specialised doctors and caregivers, and created the “Home Doctor” service, with a view to ease remote diagnostics and doctor’s visit at home, whether for COVID-19 symptoms or other medical issues.
Next steps for a safer Libya
Now that the government is leading the COVID-19 response, Mohamed and his team are focused on the next challenge – becoming a nationwide service across Libya. With funding from the European Union, 1415 is piloting their first extension in Sabha in Southern Libya.
EU support has allowed 1415 to begin setting up a call centre for residents of Sabha, a region that is particularly vulnerable to marginalization and lack of services. 1415 hopes to open a small representative office in Sabha to grow the network and engage closely with local stakeholders.
The funding support from EU, combined with Mohamed and the 1415 team’s strong network in the country and coordination with local municipalities has allowed the organization to expand quickly and they hope to further expand in the East of the country in the coming years, therefore allowing for a coverage at a national level.