Desertification in Libya Issue: the Cause of a Surge of Climate Migrants

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction About Libya
  • Timeline of the Libyan Sahara
  • Antecedent Efforts to Combat Desertification
  • Current Situation of Desertification in Libya

The number of climate migrants is predicted to become six times higher between 2020 and 2050, and one in every four internal migrants could be a climate migrant. Tens of millions of people in the different part of the world will be forced to move internally due to impacts of desertification, leaving their homes when the drought extends, the rain become unreliable, or the soil is no longer fertile.


Libya is characterized by a desert type environment in terms of land type and climate, added to more than 95 % of the country is desert or semi-desert. The processes of desertification have been accelerated by human activities coupled with climatic conditions. This desertification reinforcement is believed to affect regional as well as global climate. Nowaday, desertification is considered as one of the main environmental problems in Libya which affecting its environmental resources.

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Among others, overexploitation of natural resources, inappropriate land use planning, insufficient water resources etc. are the main factors escalating the process of desertification and deteriorating environmental quality. Mainstreaming sustainable land management into land use planning has been considered a viable solution to moderate the effects of desertification and rampant usages of natural resources. However, this requires quantifying the severity of desertification by means of identified causative factor.

Development of indicators of desertification process by means of using temporal satellite data coupled with ancillary data need to be attempted to establish a monitoring system to manage desertification in more sensitive areas. Moreover, environmental and livelihood implications of increasing desertification need to be addressed in order to promote regional economic sustainable development.

Efforts to combat desertification began in the early 1960s, serious measures have been taken to combat desertification in Libya by the best possible means. These measures were part of a broad policy in the framework of National Plan for Agricultural Development which takes into account the objectives of local development on the one hand, and harsh environmental conditions prevailing in the country on the other. These measures include curbing sand dunes, establishment of windbreaks, reforestation of fallow forest land, establishment of terraces to combat soil erosion, preservation of rain water on sloping agricultural land, and follow the special agricultural cycle to maintain soil fertility, especially in the areas of cultivation of grain, as well as the protection and improvement of natural pastures.

Introduction About Libya

Libya occupies a huge area of the northern part of the Africa, with an area around 1.6m cubic km. The location of Libya between 18º and 33º N, 9º and 25º E. Libyan climates is most;y considered by contrasting Mediterranean and Sahara climates. The northern bordered by the Mediterranean Sea with long cost stretching for 1,900 km from east to west. The population of Libya is varying from source to another, The CIA Factbook estimates that the Libyan population in 2012 was 6,733,620. Thereafter, The UN's estimate in 2018 is that there are 6.47 million people in Libya. But the last official census was done by The Libyan General Agency of Information and Documentation back in 2006, it was confirmed that 5,670,688 people were living in the country.

The vast area of the country and the tough natural environment makes it impossible to develop the bulk of the area. More importantly, harsh climate conditions, water scarcity and, desert conditions have created struggles which hampered the expansion of human activity and development. . As a result, most of the population accumulated in small and limited areas in comparison with the total area of Libya. The desert climate dominates the largest part of the country, with exception of only a narrow coast strip extends along the Mediterranean with includes the Northern highlands which the Mediterranean relative cold and rainy in winter. Köppen map below shows and illustrate the climate classification in Libya.

Timeline of the Libyan Sahara

Scientists have always been interested in the Sahara Desert. It is one of the largest deserts in the world and has been a factor in many important historical events. A great question without an answer is the age of the Sahara. It sounds simple, but it is very important. The standard answer to the age of the Sahara is 2-3 million years. Most of the desert was dry steppe and savanna rather than sand dunes. Dunes are a more recent change.

New data has made the date suspect. Some dunes have been dated to an earlier time. Regions have had cores taken that show older deserts. Now a new study titled (Aridification of the Sahara desert caused by Tethys Sea shrinkage during the Late Miocene) seems to place the beginnings of the desert to a time about 7-11 million years ago. There used to be a very large sea -Tethys - to the north. This sea was so large that the Mediterranean, Black, and Caspian Seas are the leftover waters. These researchers have run computer simulations that indicate there would be a huge change in North Africa as the Tethys shrank. Before this time, North Africa was controlled by a monsoon season. Afterwards the monsoon was weakened which allowed deserts to spread. These monsoons also became strongly tied to the variations of Earth's orbit. Interestingly enough, this is the same time when hominids went through major changes that led to the appearance of homo sapiens.

This desert was still full of plants and could support a fair number of herbivores and humans as it was considered a dry steppe rather than sandy desert. So there were a few trees and lots of brushy plants. Sometime within the last 6000 years something happened and the Sahara rapidly changed to many sand dunes with very few plants. This was a fast change by ecologic standards. We don't understand why it changed. There are still steppe and savanna areas, and these areas will sometimes grow and sometimes shrink depending on climate fluctuations.

Antecedent Efforts to Combat Desertification

In order to fight desertification, periodic and continuous monitoring is essentially required. Starting from the early 1960s, several adjustments have been taken to combat desertification in Libya, these adjustments were the main part of a broad policy in the framework of National Plan for Agricultural Development, which takes into account different perspectives; local development perspective in the one hand, plus tough environmental and climate conditions prevailing in the country on the other hand. These adjustments also include fixing mobile sand dunes, construction of windbreaks, returning fallow land to forest land, build up terraces to combat soil erosion, retention of rainwater in its original place on sloping agricultural land, and usage of crops rotations to save and keep soil fertility, specifically cereal growing areas, as well as the protection and improvement of natural pastures

In spite of the accomplishments of some attempts to reach the desired objectives, others did not meet the same success due to the lack of laws and regulations which are relative to the concerns regarding to protection of the environment. Moreover, practicing better land use management could slow down the desertification expansion. Libya has adopted many actions and measures to decrease the desertification lever during the past four decades. They can be summarized in the implementation of a range of diverse projects by government in many areas (e.g. pastures, forest, soil and water conservation, sand dune fixation, resistance to erosion and integrated agricultural development)

Current Situation of Desertification in Libya

Unfortunately, there is no updated data or information about the present status of desertification in Libya. Last study was in 2005 and it was confined on certain region in the west of the country, it was titled “Climate Change in Libya and Desertification of Jifara Plain Using Geographical Information System and Remote Sensing Techniques”, There are more several articles and papers, but still none of them is up-to-date. Due to what previously mentioned, this section will be based on assumption based on proven fact taken from proven scientific studies.

The desert in Libya according to the most updated estimations in 2013 approximately covers an area of 1,100,000 square kilometers (420,000 sq mi) around 70% of total area of this country, and extends approximately, 1,000 km from north to south, and 1,100 km from east to west in about the shape of a rectangle slanting to the south-east. Like most of the Sahara, this desert is primarily sand and hamada (A hamada is a type of desert landscape consisting of high, largely barren, hard rocky plateaus, where most of the sand has been removed by deflation) or stony plain.

A study in 2013 from University of Maryland (UMD) in the U.S. showed that The Sahara which is the largest desert in the world, has grown in size by around 10 percent since 1920. By calculating the annual average of this expansion, it would be possible to set an expansion average rate around 0.1075% each year. Looking at the seasonal trends for the same study over the same time period, the most notable expansion of the Sahara occurred in summer, resulting in a nearly 16 percent increase in the desert’s average seasonal area over the 93-year span covered by the study. Making an expansion annual rate for this seasonal area around 0.172% yearly.

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