Libya is situated in the North African region with climatic conditions that are influenced by the Mediterranean Sea in the north and the Sahara Desert in the south; resulting in abrupt weather transitions. Libya is considered the world’s ninth country in terms of oil reserves. Over 90 percent of its source of water originates from fossil groundwater aquifers. In addition, the country doesn’t have any rivers, while the surface run-offs are considered limited due to low rainfall rate. The agricultural sector relies mainly on groundwater for irrigation.
In 1983, the former regime implemented what was considered one of the biggest engineering projects; the Great Man-made River Project. It was constructed for water extraction from the south in order to bring it to the northern regions where the majority of the population is located. The implementation of this project was an attempt to make the country’s food system self-sufficient, which was used as the main reason to implement this project.
Regardless, agriculture is not one of Libya’s main economic sectors: it is a relatively small contribution to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), less than 3 percent in 2011. Given its low contribution to the overall GDP, the country has directed its full focus on the oil sector with a high dependency on the public sector. The change of regime has tested the system given the political and economic instabilities that have continued for about a decade. Although Libya signed the Paris Agreement in 2016, the Government of National Unity (GNU) only ratified it this year, putting it five years behind schedule. This delay reflects how authorities perceive climate change and its impact on Libya.
The Current Situation
In addition to the need to a solid political sovereignty, the country urgently needs environmental sovereignty. The post-2011 economic crisis led to a renewed focus on the private sector’s role in different fields; however, gaps remain. The challenges that Libya has been facing strongly impact the environmental sphere. Libya faces many slow, onset events in the form of rising temperatures and desertification. On top of this, there is an increasing interest in evaluating the extent of seawater intrusion in response to overexploitation and sea level rise.
With an expected increase in both temperatures and the number of drought days, agricultural drawbacks from these aquifers are likely to increase as well, and rain-fed agriculture and pastoralism may no longer be viable for the rural populations of semiarid Libya. According to the World Bank, in 2020, imports of goods and services accounted for 53.1 percent of the country’s total GDP.
The political instability affected the economic situation in terms of high foreign currency prices making imports extremely expensive and an economic burden. Farmers’ situation in different parts in the country is considered scattered and random. The low contribution of agriculture to the GDP is a clear sign to the weak performance of farming even if some parts have a considerably high activity linked to agriculture.
Future Scenarios & Possible Recommendations
Given these issues - compounded by the increasing and tangible impact of climate change on the Libyan population - sustainable solutions and innovations are needed to support this neglected sector. The dependence on the oil sector could negatively impact energy sources in the future. It will impose more energy constraints on the oil sector, especially now that the world is already shifting towards a green transition. Thus, Libya needs to invest in a mixed transition by using the oil sector to diversify its economy and develop a strong renewable energy sector. While the country faces the threat of water scarcity; the fate of the GMMRP is under the spotlight as well as the extent to which it will continue overexploiting fossil groundwater aquifers. In the future, this could impact the availability of water through groundwater aquifers. This leads to possible alternative solutions, such as water treatment technologies that could help both domestic and agricultural use.
From the food security perspective, Libya needs a national agricultural strategy to revive the agricultural sector locally. A clear agricultural strategy would inform farmers on which foods to produce based on Libyan diets and in-demand products. This could help reduce the high reliance on food imports and shift the focus to local farming enhancement.
Financial mechanisms and integrated water management schemes are highly required. The nexus approach has an added value to understand the collaboration between sectors, especially the energy-food-water nexus. This would allow for the enhancement of water, energy, and food security by increasing efficiency, reducing trade-offs, and improving governance across sectors.
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