LIBYA (Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya)

Map of Libya

Geography and population

The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya has a total area of about 1.76 million km². It is bordered in the east by Egypt and Sudan, on the south by Chad and Niger, in the west by Algeria and Tunisia, and in the north by the Mediterranean Sea. 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 % of the country is desert. The cultivable area was estimated at 3.80 million ha, which is only slightly over 2 % of the total area. In 1987, the total cultivated area was estimated at 2.28 million ha, or 60 % of the cultivable area, of which 1.93 million ha consisted of annual crops and 0.35 million ha consisted of permanent crops.

The total population is about 5.4 million (1995) of which 14 % is rural. The annual demographic growth rate was 4. 1% between 1980-91. The average population density is 3 inhabitants/km², but varies between 50 inhabitants/km³ in the northern regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica to less than 1 inhabitant/km³ elsewhere. Agriculture contributes less than 5% to GDP, although it provides employment for approximately 13 % of the active population.

Climate and water resources


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 with dry summers and relatively wet winters;
  • the Jabal Natusah and Jabal Akhdar highlands experiencing a plateau 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 amplitudes. Rain is rare and irregular and diminishes progressively towards zero.

The average annual rainfall is 26 mm, with more than 100 mm/year over only 7% of the land surface. The highest rainfall occurs in the northern Tripoli region (Jabal Nafusah and Jifarah Plain) 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, but great variability is observed over space and time (year to year).

Surface water

The total mean annual runoff calculated or measured at the entrance of the wadis in the plains is estimated at 200 million m³/year, but part of it either evaporates or contributes to the recharge of the aquifers. Therefore the surface water resources are roughly estimated at 100 million m³/year. Sixteen dams, with a total storage capacity of 387 million m³ and with an expected average annual volume of water controlled in the order of 60 million m³, had been constructed by 1991. Additional dams are planned, to achieve a total storage capacity of 686 million m³. This difference between the average annual runoff and the storage capacity of the dams is so that the runoff water of exceptionally wet years can be stored.


Currently, aquifers are only recharged only in the northern regions, namely in the northwestern zone, Jabal Nafusah and Jifarah Plain, and in the north-eastern zone, Jabal al Akhdar. Renewable groundwater resources are estimated at 800 to 1 000 million m³/year, but part (perhaps 50%) now flows out either to the sea or to evaporative areas (sabkhas). Not all the renewable groundwater can be abstracted without affecting the environment, because of the deterioration of water quality by saline water encroachment. For this reason, the safe yield has been estimated at 500 million m³/year. South of the 29th parallel, an important development of Palaeozoic and Mesozoic continental sandstone enabled water to be stored safely during the long period of the late Quaternary, before the climate turned extremely arid. Most water used in Libya comes from these huge fossil reserves.

Through the Great Manmade River Project about 2 km³/year of fossil water is expected to be transported from the desert to the coastal areas, mainly for irrigation but part will be used for the water supply of the major cities.

Ecological zones

The map below shows the ecological zones, as shown on the FAO global map of ecological zones produced as part of the FRA 2000. Please refer to FRA Working Paper 20 for further information on the Global Ecological Zone map.

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