How prolonged conflicts left Libya vulnerable to climate change

Libya’s agriculture relies heavily on irrigation but climatic conditions are not conducive for good production

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Thursday 24 March 2022
Impact of conflicts in Libya has left the country vulnerable to climate change: ICRC Photo: iStock

The impact of years of conflict has left Libya extremely vulnerable to climate variability and strain agricultural production, according to International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

The country’s capacity to adapt has become weaker because necessary resources to mitigate climate risks are being shifted to deal with short- and long-term consequences of the protracted conflict, said Red Cross.

Libya is one of the driest countries in the world. Less than 2 per cent of the country receives enough rain to support agriculture and only 5 per cent of the country receives more than 100 millimetres of rainfall per year, according to a report by United States Agency for International Development. Only 3.8 million hectares — 1-2 per cent of the country’s area — can support crop growth, it added. 

Libya’s agriculture relies heavily on irrigation but limited renewable water resources, coupled with harsh climatic conditions and poor soil, severely limit production. Low agricultural yields force the country to import about 75 per cent of the food required to meet local needs.

Jalal Al-Qadi, from Misrata Agriculture Research Center, said:

More resources should be invested urgently in arable lands to mitigate the impact. We can see the shock in olive oil prices, for instance, that tripled over the last two years due to reduced production impacted by decrease in rainfall.

Around 95 per cent of the country, just south of the Mediterranean, is desert. The Mediterranean climate also renders many parts prone to floods, sandstorms, dust storms and further desertification.

The government of Libya found larger sources of water in the deep southern fossil aquifers. To exploit this resource, a colossal pumping system called the Man Made River (MMR) was built to lift freshwater located 500 metres below ground and transport it hundreds of kilometers to the population at the coast, according to a study by Climate Security Expert Network. With this seemingly limitless resource, the state created massive circular state farms in the desert, the report said. 

Repeated attacks on the Man-Made River, which provides 60 per cent of all freshwater used in Libya, threatens the water security of the entire country. 

Moreover, the Wadi Kaam Dam that once held about 33 million cubic metres of water, has entirely dried up due to an ever-warming climate, affecting farms and projects directly dependent on it for irrigation.  

The Libyan government must focus on less water-intensive crops and more on water-efficient technologies, said Climate Security Expert Network, comprising around 30 international experts.

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