Situation Report
Sand dunes in the Libyan desert town of Ghadames (OCHA/Jennifer Bose Ratka)
Sand dunes in the Libyan desert town of Ghadames (OCHA/Jennifer Bose Ratka)

Climate change threatens Libya’s economic development and sustainability

Libya is one of the driest countries in the world, where the demand for water is far greater than its renewable supply. Projected temperature increases as well as rise in sea levels and increased incidence of extreme weather events has sparked concerns of depleting water resources, threats to coastal communities and reduced agricultural productivity increasing food insecurity. The Great Man-Made River project, which provides 60 per cent of all freshwater used in Libya, uses water from non-renewable aquifers that cannot be recharged by rain. Additionally, UNICEF warns that repeated assailants attacks on the River’s main systems threatens the water security of the entire country and puts millions of lives at immediate risk of losing access to safe water. As Libya’s stifling summer heat hits residents, amidst acute power cuts and COVID-19 spreading fast, continuous damage of the water system further jeopardizes people’s health and hygiene levels and increases the risk of epidemics and spread of communicable diseases.

According to the World Bank, Libya’s modest agriculture production 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. Libya is 95 per cent desert, mostly barren with flat to undulating plains. This, combined with the Mediterranean climate, renders many parts of the country susceptible to floods, sandstorms, dust storms, and desertification. Climate change poses a significant threat to Libya’s economic development and sustainability, and climate variability is likely to increase the impacts of natural hazards on agriculture production.  With more than 70 per cent of the population living in cities along the coast, rising sea levels pose an existential danger.

Climate change is today’s reality affecting communities all over the world, but people living in fragile circumstances such as in Libya feel the effects most severely. The combination of climate change and conflict further exacerbates inequalities and pushes people out of their homes, disrupts food production and supplies, amplifies diseases and malnutrition, and weakens health-care services.

For this year’s World Humanitarian Day (19 August), OCHA staged #TheHumanRace – a global challenge for climate action in solidarity with people who need it the most to put the needs of climate-vulnerable people front and centre at the UN climate summit (COP26) in November.