Combating Desertification in Libya

The climate of Libya in North Africa is characterized by absolute aridity. Over 98% of the country is very dry or dry. The vast area and difficult environment makes it almost impossible to develop the bulk of the areas. Desert conditions, water scarcity and harsh climatic conditions have created barriers that impeded the expansion of human activity and development. As a result, the cultivated and populated areas are small, with the population of the country concentrated in the northern region.

Aridity plays a major role in the serious land degradation and desertification in Libya. Rainfall is very infrequent and severely limits agricultural production. This has resulted in low vegetation cover, increased soil erosion and land degradation on a large scale and makes the region vulnerable to desertification.

There are natural and human factors that cause desertification and land degradation. Some of the natural factors include changes in climate, mainly rainfall, wind and temperature, and wind and water erosions are amongst the fundamental reasons. Climate change will result in extreme weather events and is expected to decrease water availability and water quality, increase the impact of droughts, floods, and salinity leading to a decrease in soil fertility and loss of vegetation that affects food security. On the human side, the increasing pressure of concentrated population on natural resources, poor management and over exploitation of natural resources by entities or individuals are all main human factors. Anthropogenic factors causing deterioration of soil and vegetation in Libya include: overexploitation of water resources; land transformation for agricultural uses; deforestation and the removal of natural vegetation; overgrazing in marginal areas; misuse of soil for agricultural purposes and urbanization.

Desertification has many serious ecological, socio-economic and environmental effects and consequences and to combat desertification requires an appropriate strategy and using various ways and means at all levels. The most serious consequences include the degradation and destruction of natural resources, decrease of productive lands and reduced productivity, occurrence of dust storms that have severe environmental impact on plants, animals and human and migration of people to cities. At the local and global level, desertification leads to reduction in biodiversity, and genetic erosion of local livestock and plant varieties and species living in fragile ecosystems.

Libya has found the use of remote sensing technology to monitor desertification the most efficient approach. Since early 1960s, Libya has taken serious measures to combat desertification as part of a broad policy in the framework of National Plan for Agricultural Development which takes into account the objectives of local development on one hand and the harsh environmental conditions prevailing in the countries on the other. And the government has adopted a lot of measures and actions to control desertification during the last four decades by implementing a range of diverse projects in many areas (i.e. forest, pastures, sand dune fixation, soil and water conservation, resistance to erosion and integrated agricultural development).

In addition to the great attention given to the development and conservation of water resources, the Libya government has many other actions and initiatives in combating desertification and land degradation including:

  • protecting and maintaining soil fertility
  • regulating gazing and rehabilitation of degraded land
  • reforest lands threatened by erosion and desert encroachment
  • bans on cutting of forests
  • establishment of national parks and wildlife reserves to maintain biodiversity

Libya has ratified important international agreements on environment, like biodiversity, climate change and desertification. There are several laws to protect the environment, natural resources including laws on the use of arable land, pasture land, water, protection of renewable and no renewable natural resources and urban development. Implementation of the laws could go some way to reverse the trend of desertification and halt desert encroachment, and maintain the ecological balance while conserving biodiversity, but enforcement of such laws is weak. Despite the efforts and achievements made, there are still significant challenges and obstacles that need to be confronted by all possible means including: scarcity of water; increasing level of food deficit due to rapid population growth; erroneous practices of local people and unfettered exploitation of natural resources with no thought about sustainable use; lax and inconsistent applications of laws and regulations; absence of a comprehensive data base of natural resources in terms of importance and restriction for their uses and lack of skilled manpower and specialized staff in the field of natural resources and combating desertification.

As the degree and types of desertification varies from one part of Libya to another, land management has been acknowledged to be extremely important in desertification prone areas. Moreover, adopting better land use management practices could slow down the desertification process. Therefore it is argued that geospatial tools should be used to track land cover changes to create and update maps so that land utilization can be managed more effectively and sustainably.

Reference:

Combating Desertification in Asia, Africa and the Middle East - Proven practices, G. Ali Heshmati, Victor R. Squires (editors), Springer Netherlands, 2013, ISBN 978-94-007-6651-8, 476 pp.