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Geography, climate and population


Libya has a total area of about 1.76 million km². It is bordered in the north by the Mediterranean Sea, in the east by Egypt, in the southeast by Sudan, in the south by Chad and Niger, and in the west by Algeria and Tunisia. Four physiographic regions can be distinguished:

  • The coastal plains that run along the Libyan coast and vary in width;
  • The northern mountains that run close to the coastal plains and include the Jabal Nafusah in the west and the Jabal al Akhdar in the east;
  • The internal depressions that cover the centre of Libya and include several oases;
  • The southern and western mountains.

About 95 percent of the country is desert. The cultivated area is estimated at about 2 million ha which is 1 percent of the total area of the country. Permanent pastures account for 13.3 million ha, annual crops for 1.72 million ha and permanent crops for only 0.34 million ha in 2013 (Table 1).


The climatic conditions are influenced by the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Sahara desert to the south, resulting in an abrupt transition from one kind of weather to another. The following broad climatic divisions can be made:

  • The Mediterranean coastal strip has dry summers and relatively wet winters;
  • The Jabal Natusah and Jabal al Akhdar highlands experience a steppe climate with higher rainfall and humidity and low winter temperatures, including snow on the hills;
  • Moving southwards to the interior, pre-desert and desert climatic conditions prevail, with torrid temperatures and large daily thermal variations; rain is rare and irregular and diminishes progressively towards zero.

Annual rainfall is extremely low, with about 93 percent of the land surface receiving less than 100 mm/year. The highest rainfall occurs in the northern Tripoli region (Jabal Nafusah and Jifarah plains) and in the northern Benghazi region (Jabal al Akhdar), these two areas being the only ones where the average annual rainfall exceeds the minimum value (250-300 mm) considered necessary to sustain rainfed agriculture. Rainfall occurs during the winter months (October-March), but great variability is observed from place to place and from year to year. Average annual rainfall for the country as a whole is 56 mm. Temperatures vary between over 40ËšC in summer to below zero in winter.


Total population was about 6.3 million in 2015, of which only 21 percent is rural. The annual population growth rate for the period 2005-2015 was estimated at 0.8 percent in sharp decline since the 1980s and 1990s, when it was 4.2 and 2.8 percent respectively (GIA and UNDP, 2008). Immigrants from Arab states–especially Egypt–and from Sub-Saharan Africa reached over 2 million in the 2000s, representing over one third of the population. One third of the immigrants were female. Half a million had left the country after three months of conflict in 2011. The average population density of about 4 inhabitants/km² varies between 300 inhabitants/km² in the northern coastal regions, being one of the highest population density on arable land, to less than 1 inhabitant/km² in the south. An estimated 85 percent of the population lives in or around the coastal cities, especially the capital Tripoli and Benghazi.

In 2014, the Human Development Index considers Libya as a country with high human development ranking 94 among 188 countries, while the Gender Inequality Index (GII) ranks it 27 among 155 countries, for which information was available (UNDP, 2016). Life expectancy in Libya is almost 72 years in 2013 and the under-five mortality is 13 per 1000 births in 2015, both progressing from 70 years and 32 per 1000 in the 1990s. With no significant distinction between boys and girls, almost all children in 2007 are enrolled in primary education (GIA and UNDP, 2008). Adult literacy is 90 percent in 2013, with a significant difference between female and male (84 versus 96 percent respectively; WB, 2016). Poverty concerns 13 percent of the population in 2003 (GIA and UNDP, 2008). Data about access to safe water and appropriate sewage in the country are conflicting, depending on the sources due to the fact that the definition used for the monitoring of these millennium development goals (MDGs) was different at national level and thus not recognized globally. The only figure recognized dates back to 1992 with 71 percent of the total population having access to safe water, with little difference between rural (68 percent) and urban population (72 percent; JMP, 2015). The share of households relying on public taps from drinking water decreased from 58 percent in 2003 to 44 percent in 2007, probably due to water pollution. There was a corresponding increase in the uptake of wells/boreholes and bottled water as main sources of drinking water. Using this figure of the total population connected to public networks and private wells in 2005, and assuming that well water is protected, the JMP estimated the access to safe water at 88 percent in 2005 (90 and 82 percent respectively for urban and rural population; UNDP, 2010). Access to appropriate sewage network is more largely spread with 95 percent of the population having it in 1995 and 98 percent in 2007 (GIA and UNDP, 2008). According to the 2007 Pan Arab Population and Family Health Project, only 63 percent of households in Libya are connected to a waste liquid disposal network, and 40 percent are using septic tanks. Living conditions and amenities are rudimentary in the south outside oil-exploitation areas (WFP and FAO, 2011).


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