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Omar M. Salem
General Water Authority, Tripoli



Libya is a North African country with a surface area of over 1.7 million km2, forming a great part of the Sahara desert. It enjoys a Mediterranean coast of about 2000 km. In general, Libya has a flat surface area gently sloping northward. A few mountains of low to medium altitude mark the north-western and north-eastern as well as the central and southern parts of the country.

Only 2% of the surface area is considered suitable for agricultural activities, the rest is either a gravelly or sand dune desert, salt marshes (sabkas) or mountains. Irrigated agriculture is currently estimated at 350 000 ha, while dry farming occupies an area of 1.4 million ha.


The climate varies widely from north to south, influenced by the Mediterranean sea and the Sahara desert. The following climatic zones are present:


According to the last census, the Libyan population is 4.4 million, of which 50.8% are males and 49.2% are females. 61% of the population is over 15 years old. This population constitutes about 727 000 households.

Table 1 Projected population growth

















Note: (1) Including non-Libyan population.

Geographically, the Libyan population is concentrated along the coastal belt and in a few inland cities and oases. In fact, over 50% of the total population live in the Gefara plain and Jabal Nafusa, making the population density over 120/km2. In the central and southern parts of the country, the population density is below 1 /km2.

In comparison with previous censuses (1974, 1984), the rate of population growth has declined from 4.2% (1984) to 2.8%. This decline is of great significance as it reflects a certain degree of public awareness, which could lead to a more effective control of the use of natural resources. Table 1 shows one of the scenarios of future Libyan population.


Surface water resources are very limited and contribute less than 3% of the current water resources in use. This is due to the fact that Libya has no perennial rivers, with surface runoff limited to short winter floods following intense rain storms. Such flow is estimated at around 80×106m3/yr in Jabal Akhdar, 77×106m3/yr in Jabal Nafusa and 30×106m3/yr in the Hamada area. Heavy rainfall events, though not very frequent, can produce major floods in the winter months of October to February. They play a major role in the replenishment of the Quaternary and Tertiary aquifers in northern Libya, and in maintaining the flow of several small- and medium-sized springs.

Libya has in the past few years managed to control a great part of its surface runoff. Hundreds of small dams and reservoirs have been constructed to harvest rainwater and for soil conservation. For flood control and protection of population centres and agricultural fields, 16 major dams were also constructed. The total reservoir capacity of these dams is in the order of 300×106m3 but their average annual storage capacity is only 60×106m3. Water stored behind these major dams is used for the supply of agricultural areas, industrial projects, and, in a few cases, for domestic use.

Some 20 more dams are planned for construction during the coming years, which will raise the annual storage to around 110×106m3.

Libya also has a great number of natural springs, many of which are of good quality water. Their discharge varies from less than 1 l/s to over 10 l/s. A few springs are, however, of much higher discharge, namely Ayn Zayana, Ayn Kaam, Ayn Dabbousia and Ayn Tawargha. A major programme for the rehabilitation and use of the springs is underway.

Surface water resources are not expected to add considerably to the water supply of Libya. In fact if we consider that only that portion of the surface runoff that reaches the sea as a “loss,” then even the planned projects, such as the additional dams and reservoirs, will contribute only little to the overall water balance.


Being an arid zone country, Libya depends heavily on groundwater, which accounts for more than 97% of the water used. In the past, groundwater was easily extracted through large-diameter wells, dug using traditional tools, since water levels were very near to the surface. However, starting from the early sixties and coinciding with the oil boom, groundwater extraction rates accelerated rapidly and the use of centrifugal and submersible pumps became necessary to cope with the falling water table.

Groundwater resources are divided into two major categories: renewable and non-renewable. The renewable groundwaters are those retained in the northern aquifers of the Gefara plain, Jabal Akhdar and parts of the Hamada and central zone area. The non-renewable groundwaters are those belonging to the great sedimentary basins of the Kufra, Murzuk, Sarir and the Hamada. These basins underlie the southern part of the country, which has severely arid conditions. Rare events of heavy showers producing local runoff do take place, especially in the Haruj mountains in the centre of the country, in the Tibesti mountains in the south and in the Aweinat mountains in the west. These events may cause local recharge, but it is of minor importance in comparison with total storage values and aquifer losses.



Despite the scarcity of water resources, consumption is on the rise as a result of improving economic conditions, urbanization, and improving standards of living.

Irrigated agriculture is expanding in the north as well as in the oases and along wadis. At present it is estimated that between 350 000 and 400 000 ha are under irrigation. Their water requirements vary from less than 10 000 m3/ha to over 20 000 m3/ha, depending on the location, type of crop and irrigation method. At the same time, domestic water use varies from less than 150 l/caput/day in small rural settlements, to over 300 l/caput/day in major cities.


Agriculture is and will continue to be the major water consumer. It represents about 87% of the current water demand and despite the use of pressurized irrigation techniques in practically all farming areas, application rates are still among the highest in the world. This is mainly due to the unsuitable climatic and soil conditions. Different scenarios can be presented for the estimation of future water demand by the agricultural sector. A reasonable one is that shown in Table 2.

Table 2 Projected agricultural water use









Irrigated area (‘000 ha)








Water demand (×106m3)

3 376

3 860

4 342

4 825

5 307

5 790

6 272

Efficiency of the applied irrigation systems is in the order of 40 to 60% for surface irrigation, 60 to 75% for sprinkler irrigation and >80% for localized (micro) irrigation. Efficiency is expected to be further improved by expansion of localized irrigation. In fact, a few factories producing micro-irrigation equipment are already in operation.


In Libya, 85% of the population live in urban centres, varying in size from 5 000 to 1 000 000 inhabitants, and depend for their domestic water supply on municipal sources with house connections. Various surveys have been conducted to determine the average water consumption per caput, which was found to range from 150 to 300 l/caput/day, depending on the size of the city, location, and age of the supply network.

In rural areas, people depend to a certain extent on private water supply sources, usually wells, rainwater reservoirs and springs. The average per caput consumption falls between 100 and 150 l/caput/day.

Domestic water consumption rates are generally increasing with time as a function of income. For future estimates of domestic water use, an average per caput consumption of 207 l/day, with annual rate of increase of 1.25%, can be assumed. The resulting figures are shown in Table 3.

Table 3 Projected domestic water consumption









Population (×106)








Domestic water consumption (×106m3)






1 060

1 280


Industry consumes the least water of all sectors, with a current share of about 4%. A large number of industries depend on private sources for water supply, including desalination of seawater, as in the case of chemical, petrochemical, steel, textile and other industries. At present, total industrial water use is estimated at 145×106m3/yr. An annual rate of increase of the order of 4% may be taken as a representative scenario for future industrial water demand, as shown in Table 4.

Table 4 Projected industrial water use









Water use (×106m3)









Table 5 Water resources available in Libya



Surface water(1)


Renewable groundwater


Non-renewable groundwater

- Gefara Plain(2)


- Jabal Akhdar(2)


- Kufra & Sarir(3)

1 300

- Hamada(2)


- Murzuk(3)

1 500


3 820

Notes: (1) Not totally controlled. (2) In addition to the renewed volume. (3) Estimated for at least 50 years.

In order to evaluate the water resources available for use in Libya, it is necessary to analyse both conventional and non-conventional sources, including non-renewable groundwater resources. The last-named are those fossil resources contained in the large sedimentary basins of the southern half of the country, and which could contribute to development schemes by allowing an acceptable rate of water level decline without exposing them to serious deterioration in quality.

Accordingly, a calculated volume of the non-renewable resources could be safely used within a reasonable time scale. Several factors control the “rate of mining” of the groundwater aquifers, including accessibility, quality, cost of production and use.

In Libya, the volume of water potentially available for use is estimated at 3 820×106m3, of which 170×106m3 is surface water, 650×106m3 is annual recharge to groundwater aquifers, while 3 000×106m3 is considered an acceptable depletion rate of the non-renewable aquifers. The latter value is independently determined for each basin on the basis of its hydrogeological characteristics and total reserve.

Table 5 summarizes the water resources available in the country, although these values are expected to change with time as a result of improvement in the state of knowledge of aquifer conditions.

Table 6 shows the overall water balance projected for the year 2025. The values presented are conservative estimates for demand, concerned, and by no means represent a state of self-sufficiency in basic food production.

Table 6 Projected water balance for Libya









Supply (×106m3)

3 820

3 820

3 820

3 820

3 820

3 820

3 820

Demand (×106m3)

3 885

4 493

5 128

5 794

6 495

7 236

8 022

Balance (×106m3)



-1 308

-1 974

-2 675

-3 416

-4 202

Table 7 Projected per caput water supply

















The calculated per caput share of the renewable water resources is among the lowest in the area, declining from 170 m3 in 1995 to only 70 m3 by the year 2025, as shown in Table 7.

The large deficit in the water balance is fulfilled through over-exploitation of the coastal aquifers in the first place as well as from the inland aquifers. This has already introduced major problems such as sharp drops in water levels, and increased salinity. These two problems are responsible for many other technical, social and economic difficulties, including:

The seawater intrusion front along the north-western coast is advancing at an alarming rate and has already invaded 10 km inland in the Tripoli region. The effect of this encroachment is not only irreversible but also affecting about half of the Libyan population and more than half the irrigated agriculture.


In the previous sections, the current and predicted water situations were introduced, highlighting some of the major issues and problems in the field. In this section, a brief analysis and evaluation will be given of the main issues.


Libya is subdivided into five water zones, representing the major groundwater basins or aquifer systems. It is therefore necessary to define the water balance for each basin separately. The uneven distribution of population and the intensive agricultural activities in the coastal plains make the gap between supply and demand much wider in the Gefara and Jabal Akhdar plains. Table 8 summarizes the water balance for each basin for 1995.

Table 8 Water balance by basin (1995)








Population (million)







Area (km2)

18 000

145 000

215 000

700 000

350 000

Water use (×106m3)

· Irrigation






3 376

· Domestic







· Industrial







Total Demand

1 200





3 885

Water supply (×106m3)

· Renewable groundwater







· Non-renewable groundwater







· Surface water







Total supply (×106m3)




1 300

1 500

3 820

Balance (×106m3)







The imbalance between supply and demand is expected to grow much wider in the future, especially for the northern basins. The immediate remedies already considered include interbasin water transfer, desalination and wastewater treatment. Other complementary solutions cover legislative measures, charges and public awareness.


In Libya, water for irrigation is mainly obtained from groundwater through drilled wells, ranging in depth from less than 100 m to over 1000 m. Apart from public supply wells associated with government production and settlement projects, all wells are privately owned. In the so-called ‘settlement projects,’ each well serves a number of farms through an integrated irrigation network. Problems related to water distribution, pump failure and well maintenance are commonplace, and require prompt intervention by the project management or farmers’ association, which could take a few days or weeks to solve. Such a delay usually results in heavy losses, especially during the summer season. For privately operated wells, the problems are of availability of equipment, and spare parts when needed, and submersible pumps in particular, which are usually in short supply.

Domestic water supply, on the other hand, faces problems of both quality and pressure. Around 60% of the population is served by municipal water networks, with metered house connections. The source of municipal water is usually from wellfields and, in very few cases, from desalination plants. Until recently, the two major cities of Tripoli and Benghazi were suffering from water shortages and high salinity, which forced most people to secure their water needs from distant sources and in some cases, to drill their own shallow wells in their backyards. Other cities are also witnessing severe water supply shortages, forcing people to buy potable water from private vendors, usually in the form of truck-mounted cisterns of 6 to 12 m3. The water is then stored in concrete underground reservoirs for domestic use. The cost of water ranges from LD 3 to 4/m3.

Sewage treatment plants have already been constructed providing almost all major cities with installed sewerage networks Their total design capacity is of the order of 590 000 m3/day, but, of these, only a few plants are currently in operation, with an output estimated at 190 000 m3/day that is used primarily for fodder and fruit tree irrigation in nearby projects. Failure of most treatment plants is due to non-availability of electro-mechanical parts.

Generally, water supply, distribution and sewage treatment systems are not adequate. Many factories, institutions and individuals still depend on private supply sources. Recently, however, water transported from the “Great Man-made River Project” (GMRP) wellfields in Sarir and Murzuk basins to the coastal cities of Tripoli and Benghazi has greatly contributed to improvement in the quantity and quality of municipal water. Several other coastal and inland cities will benefit from GMRP water in the coming years.


Water plays a vital role in the economic activities, mainly agricultural and industrial, which are responsible for the employment of over 37% of the active manpower. Agriculture’s contribution to GNP is about 7.8%. Irrigated agriculture depends on thousands of wells and is currently securing a considerable percentage of required food items, such as cereals, meat, vegetables, dairy products, legumes, etc.

Falling water tables and increasing salinity have increased the cost of production and decreased the productivity per unit of water and per unit area.

Contribution of the agricultural sector to the national economy is expected to diminish as a result of water scarcity and quality deterioration. In order to reverse this process, GMRP is expected to convey over 6×106m3/day from south to north to maintain the present irrigated areas, in addition to allowing new areas to be brought under irrigation. However, conveyance of water from the southern basins is a mining operation that can only continue for a finite period of time.


About 600 000 km2 - some 35% of the total area of Libya - is underlain by aquifers with high (up to 5 g/l) levels of salinity, rendering such waters useless for any purpose. This salinity is naturally occurring as a result of gypsum and anhydrite layers and the effect of natural depressions and sabkas. Other areas along the western coast have recently become underlain by saline aquifers as a result of seawater intrusion. These areas are covered by fertile soils and traditionally enjoyed excellent productivity, especially for vegetables and fruits. According to recent surveys, the rate of advance of the seawater intrusion front is between 200 and 500 m/year.

The sudden increase in salinity obliged many institutions, such as hospitals, colleges, army camps, company compounds, hotels, and several industries, to install small-scale desalination units for securing their water supply. The use of these desalination units is environmentally unsound since the brine is either disposed of into the soil or directly into the sewerage network. The high cost of operation and maintenance (O&M) of wells, pumps, house connections and other equipments is increasing alarmingly. At the same time, groundwater pollution, though very rare in sandstone aquifers, is reported in several locations in the karstic carbonate aquifers of the Jabal Akhdar. The sources of pollution include the direct disposal of sewage in wadi beds and depressions, the spread of unlined garbage dump sites, cesspools and, in certain cases, the uncontrolled disposal of industrial waste. Pollution as a result of intensive agricultural activities is still very rare, although high nitrate concentrations have been reported in shallow groundwater aquifers underlying agricultural projects in the south, as well as in shallow aquifers in highly populated areas.


Future water supply will originate from two main sources: deep groundwater from large sedimentary aquifers in the south, and from seawater desalination. The conveyance of groundwater through large diameter pipelines for thousands of kilometres to bring good quality water to the suffering areas in the north has already started. The ‘Great Man-made River Project’ (GMRP), when completed, will be able to carry more than 6×106m3/day at a cost much below the cost of desalination. This water is intended minimize the deficit in agricultural water needs, in addition to securing drinking water supply for a great number of coastal cities, including Tripoli and Benghazi. The project is planned to last for a minimum of 50 years, during which time great effort should be placed on the development of desalination techniques in order to overcome the problem of high cost. The conveyed water originates from three internationally shared basins. The effect of pumping at the planned rates will not extend beyond the Libyan borders and will have no direct effect on ongoing development in nearby areas inside Libya. Nevertheless, joint technical commissions with neighbouring countries have been formed for integrated management of these resources.

Over 20 desalination plants of medium to high capacity were built during the last two decades, with a total installed capacity of 480 000 m3/day, of which several plants are still in operation, with an average production of 190 000 m3/day. In addition, hundreds of small units with capacities ranging from 500 to 6 000 m3/day have been installed. The cost of desalination is still high and can only be justified for domestic and industrial purposes. Expansion of desalination, though very necessary to meet the growing demand for water, is always considered with great caution due to the high operation cost. Further developments in this field should definitely make desalination the most attractive option for solving water supply problems.


Sprinkler and drip or localized irrigation are the two most common irrigation methods. Their average efficiencies are estimated at 60-75% and >80%, respectively. In large-scale irrigation projects using central pivots the efficiency is slightly lower. Although no tendency for overirrigation is reported, application rates per hectare are among the highest in the region due to unsuitable climatic and soil conditions.

In the municipal sector, distribution losses are estimated at 15 to 30%. Recently, however, a renewal of the networks of the two major cities of Tripoli and Benghazi to cope with the increase of pressure after the arrival of GMRP water has reduced these losses considerably. The per caput water consumption is fairly high, compared with other North African countries with similar social, economic and climatic conditions.

In industry, water use is highly controlled and represents only a small percentage of the overall water consumption.

The national average water application for all crops is 9 645 m3/ha. The rate of application varies according to crop type and location. For example, the average irrigation need of wheat is 4 110 m3/ha in the north and 8 500 m3/ha in the south, and that of fruit trees ranges from 7 000 to 15 000 m3/ha. For alfalfa, the rate is between 18 000 and 32 000 m3/ha, and for summer vegetables it ranges from 6 000 to 10 000 m3/ha, while for winter vegetables the rate is between 4 000 and 6 000 m3/ha.

Sewage treatment is facing serious difficulties in terms of O&M. Despite the great number of plants built, only a few are operating with medium to high efficiency. The total installed capacity is 590 000 m3/day at 33 plants. This capacity could be restored or even increased provided that enough funds are allocated to overcome the electro-mechanical failures and replacement of necessary parts.

At present the proportion of treated and recycled wastewater is negligible in relation to total domestic sewage and industrial wastewater output.

At house level, water use could be further reduced by at least 30% if certain measures were adopted, including the introduction of more efficient appliances, elimination of leakage, and public education concerning the rational use of water.

In public buildings and institutions, waste of water is even more pronounced.


Water is provided almost free of charge due to the fact that municipalities are no more able to supply water of acceptable quality and pressure. By Law, however, municipal water must be metered and an ascending tariff is charged. The tariff is not intended to recover the investment cost for the water supply system, but rather to minimize wastage and to partly compensate for O&M. A new tariff was recently issued for use of the GMRP water. It is also based on O&M cost recovery and covers agricultural, industrial and municipal water. The billing system is irregular and sometimes non-existent, which implies that water will continue to be a free commodity provided by the State. No charges have been imposed for irrigation water in the past as water is extracted through privately constructed wells. For the GMRP water, a fixed rate per cubic meter will be charged. At present, farmers are only charged the cost of energy used for the production of water, and that energy is also subsidized.


Libya does not share any surface water resources with neighbouring countries, but does, however, share groundwater basins with Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia. Development of these groundwater basins was very limited in the past, but could become more and more intense in the future. At the same time, water from these reservoirs is progressively used by the other countries. For coordinated management and development of these common water resources, Libya has joined bilateral and regional committees for exchange of technical data and implementation of joint programmes for the rational use of these non-renewable water resources under continuous monitoring. As a result of such coordination, joint studies covering all the basins are being executed using national and international funds. These studies include the establishment of common databases, GIS systems, hydrogeological maps and mathematical models for the Nubian sandstone aquifer between Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan, and the Continental Intercalaire aquifer between Algeria, Libya and Tunisia.


The water sector has undergone several administrative changes in the past, developing from a section in the Ministry of Agriculture to a full Ministry. At present, it is reduced to a “general authority” in the Secretariat (Ministry) of Agriculture. Domestic water supply and sewage treatment is the concern of the Secretariat of Housing and Utilities, while desalination falls under the Secretariat of Energy and Minerals. Two institutions dealing with the water conveyance project were formed. The first is the Great Man-made River Authority (GMRA), and the second is the Great Man-made River Water Utilization Authorities (three authorities representing the three main regions for the utilization of GMRP water). Administratively, all these institutions are centrally run, with regional and sub-regional branches covering local activities and services.

In the field of irrigation, there is a plan to minimize government interference by redistributing agricultural lands among small-scale farmers. The planned irrigation areas that will depend on the GMRP water will also take the form of small farms of about 5 ha each in order to reduce government spending and improve overall efficiency.

Table 9 gives a matrix of the main problems and critical issues in the water sector of Libya.

Table 9 Matrix of problems and critical issues for the Libyan water sector





Supply-demand imbalance

* lowering of water level

* depletion of aquifers

* increasing salinity

* high water demand and limited recharge

* uncontrolled expansion of agricultural activities

* high rate of population growth

* limited water resources

* growing shortage of water and deteriorating quality

Low standard of service

* O&M difficulties

* low pressure, low quality of domestic water supply

* high network losses

* low performance of sewage plants

* Financial constraints

* lack of qualified operators

* water supply shortage and low quality

* fast urbanization

* Water loss

* Sanitation problems

Water quality deterioration

* Increasing salinity of domestic and agricultural water

* groundwater pollution due to human and agricultural activities

* Overpumping of groundwater

* Industrial, municipal and agricultural waste waters

* high cost of O&M

* health hazards

Inefficiency of use

* irrigation losses

* water supply loss

* no pricing for water

* weak extension

* unsuitable irrigation methods

* poor O&M

* old networks

* weak law enforcement

* high loss of precious water

Structural and institutional

* inefficient coordination between departments

* inefficient performance of desalination and sewage treatment

* lack of a central planning and policy formulation mechanism

* no central body of high status is in charge of all water resources development, operation, management and planning

* inefficient management of the resource


In view of the growing water scarcity problem, it was deemed necessary to review the water situation and draw up a long-term policy to overcome these problems. A national committee was formed by a decree of The General People’s Committee (Council of Ministers), No. 196 of 1996. This Committee, which consists of 14 members representing all water-related sectors, was entrusted with the following tasks:

The Committee was expected to finalize its report by the end of 1997.


The main objectives of the water policy are:


Several actions have already been considered and should be given further attentions in the future. They include, but are not limited to, the actions considered in the sections below.

5.2.1. Increasing the contribution from non-conventional water sources

The contribution of the 20 desalination plants of medium to large capacity is about 69×106m3/yr, not including the contribution of the small desalination units (<6 000 m3/day per unit), and the contribution of the sewage treatment plants is about 70×106m3/yr.

These figures represent only 39% and 32% of the installed capacity for desalination and sewage plants, respectively. It is, therefore, necessary not only to restore the production capacity of the constructed plants but also to invest in additional plants during the next decades. If 50% of domestic water use is considered feasible for treatment, then by the year 2025, Libya should be able to produce around 400 to 600×106m3/yr of treated sewage water that can effectively contribute to the irrigation water supply. However, even though desalination is theoretically limited only by the investment capability, it is not expected to grow beyond 1×106m3/day, which is between 28 and 41% of the domestic water demand projected for 2025.

5.2.2. Reconsidering agricultural policy

Irrigated agriculture is most concentrated in the north-western area, especially in the Gefara Plain, which hosts about 50% of the irrigated area in the country. Here, the present rate of water application is estimated at 1 500 to 2 000×106m3/yr, which is about 10 times the rate of recharge. Previous master plans have all recommended a reduction in pumped groundwater in the sub-region to 250×106m3/yr by adopting the following procedures:

The case of the Gefara Plain applies to other sub-regions with comparable conditions.

5.2.3. Legislative action

Libya was among the first countries in the region to introduce modern water legislation. The first water law was issued in 1965, prepared in cooperation with the legal department of FAO, and was later superseded by Law No. 3 of 1982. The latter covers, inter alia, the following aspects of water resources: ownership of water; responsibility for control and management; licensing for drilling, exploitation and use; pollution control; and penalties.

Under this Law, water is a publicly owned good, and can only be exploited with the authority of a licence which defines the amount of use and duration. When certain areas are subject to overexploitation, resulting in heavy drawdowns and deterioration in quality, it should be declared a prohibited zone for further development, and could be subject to reduction in the rate of exploitation.

The ‘polluter-pays’ principle is clearly defined in the Water Law, as well as the necessary protective measures.

Complementary legislation directly or indirectly influencing the water cycle also exists, including:

In addition, several Decrees and Decisions by the Secretary (Minister) of Agriculture and the General People’s Committee (GPC) (Council of Ministers) have been issued, of which important ones are:

Existing water legislation can therefore be considered adequate, and addresses all issues, and is able to cope with possible changes in the water situation, i.e., specified actions could be implemented whenever the water crisis reaches a certain level of severity.

5.2.4. Institutional aspects

In Libya, water resources development, management and use is the concern of three main departments, namely:

The GWA was formed in 1972 and was initially entrusted with:

Additional tasks were added later to cover the fields of dam construction, irrigation, drainage and soils. GWA is currently under the general supervision of the Secretariat of Agriculture.

The Secretariat of Housing and Utilities operates all domestic water supply wellfields, pumping stations and distribution networks, and provides metering and chlorination services. It is also responsible for the design, construction and O&M of sewage treatment plants. The Technical Centre for Environmental Protection, under the Secretariat of Housing and Utilities, in coordination with institutions concerned, such as GWA, is in charge of the study and control of water pollution and other aspects of environmental degradation.

The Secretariat of Energy is in charge of design and O&M of major desalination plants.

Implementation of the large-scale groundwater conveyance scheme is entrusted to GMRA. Upon arrival at final destinations in the north, other authorities become responsible for the use of the conveyed water in agriculture.

The National Committee for Water Resources is studying possible reforms in the organization of the water sector. One option being investigated is to strengthen the contribution of non-conventional sources. At present, both desalination and sewage treatment are minor sections within their respective departments. They are both understaffed and unable to secure necessary O&M requirements. Upgrading of performance can only be accomplished through the creation of an independent body of higher administrative status.

Similarly, GWA could play a more effective role if granted independence in decision making. Being under the direct supervision of the Secretariat of Agriculture weakens its effectiveness in controlling the largest water consuming sector.

5.2.5. Inter-basin water transfer

As previously stated, inter-basin water transfer represents one of the most feasible solutions in the short and medium terms. The added water will definitely narrow the gap between supply and demand and provide a respite while considering other options. In the long term, inter-basin transfer is not at all feasible, for technical and economic reasons. This fact is already known to the policy-makers as a result of the intensive groundwater studies and simulations. It can only be reversed if the size of transfer is considerably reduced and limited to the supply of basic domestic needs. Inter-basin transfer based on non-renewable groundwater is therefore not a long-term solution, but should be rather considered as a vital transitory stage.

5.2.6. Capacity building

Capacity building in the field of water resources should include the education and training of personnel, institutional reforms and strengthening the capability to enforce water legislation. Progress has been made in the field of training through international cooperation and bilateral agreements. At the local level, training courses are provided by national training centres, mainly in the field of administration, finance, management and computer applications. Technical courses are also organized in cooperation with university departments and specialized companies. Academically, three levels of training are offered. The Intermediate Water Resources Institute offers a three-year training course in the fields of drilling, groundwater and surface water. Graduates of the institute are hired as technicians in their respective fields. A newly formed High Institute for Water Resources is also offering a three-year curriculum in the fields of groundwater, drilling, desalination and wastewater treatment. In addition, departments of geology, engineering and agricultural sciences in the Libyan universities provide full academic training leading to university degrees in their respective fields.


A long-term strategy for the management of the scarce water resources should be adopted. The strategy must clearly reflect the defined policy objectives.


The Libyan Water Law sets the order of priorities in licensing the use of water resources, in the following order (Article 8 of Law No. 3 of 1982):

(a) Human use and watering of animals.
(b) Agricultural purposes, preferably cultivation of food crops.
(c) Industrial purposes and mining.

To secure a continuous supply of domestic water under the prevailing scarcity conditions and growing demands, certain aquifers must be fully dedicated for this purpose, in particular, the renewable shallow aquifers in the highly populated zones in the north and the freshwater aquifers in the oases.


In order to define the geometry, extension, hydraulic properties, water quality, behaviour and long-term reaction of the groundwater aquifers to proposed exploitation schemes, detailed studies and continuous monitoring should be conducted. Although a great part of the country is covered by reconnaissance, semi-detailed or detailed studies, more work needs to be done to improve the state of knowledge. Establishment of databases and GIS systems, and running mathematical simulation models for each of the major basins should be initiated. Heavy investment in the establishment of monitoring networks for groundwater levels, water quality and surface water should be programmed over the coming years.


Raising the efficiency of water distribution and use, particularly in the agricultural and domestic fields could result in an overall saving of around 1.5×109m3/yr. This requires monitoring of municipal networks for leak detection and repairs, introduction of high efficiency irrigation systems, and the organization of extension campaigns to educate farmers concerning efficient irrigation practices.


Full control of surface water resources could be realized by the construction of twenty more dams and hundreds of ground reservoirs. The necessary studies and designs for these projects have already been completed. The total harvested water could then be raised to a maximum of 120 to 150×106m3. The construction of more dams should, however, be treated with care to avoid possible negative effects on groundwater replenishment. Additional development of the groundwater resources beyond the planned schemes of the GMRP could only be considered if confirmed by further detailed investigations in coordination with neighbouring countries.


Self-sufficiency in basic food crops is designated as a priority among agricultural policies of the country. Large-scale irrigation projects to produce cereals were realized under poor climatic and soil conditions. Located deep in the desert, these state-run projects succeeded in augmenting production but at a relatively high cost and at extremely high rates of water application. Other crops with high water consumption are still produced extensively in the southern part of the country for local and national use. They include alfalfa, tomatoes, water melons, onions and other crops. Upon completion of the GMRP project, such cropping patterns must be altered and replaced by production under more suitable conditions in the north, with great savings in the quantity of water used. Other changes in agricultural practices might include the expansion of greenhouse production of vegetables, banning exports, and application of water rationing.


Assigning a value to water is strongly recommended as an effective tool for water saving. In Libya, domestic water supply is subject to an ascending charge. The billing system is, however, inefficient for the previously explained reasons.

Water for irrigation is currently obtained free-of-charge from private sources. Delivered GMRP water will be metered and charged to the end users. This process must include all privately developed water supplies, and be based on the right-of-use approach, which gives GWA the power to allocate a fixed amount of water for each farmer depending on the size of farm, type of crop, location and other considerations.


Water legislation in Libya is satisfactory and covers all aspects of water conservation and protection. Implementation of this legislation, however, is ineffective, despite the fact that a special police force is fully dedicated to detecting violations of the agricultural and water regulations. Special courts were also formed to look into cases of law violation. Nevertheless, a systematic review of the current legislation should be carried out and any necessary changes introduced.


Population growth control is the key to success in any planning operation. Under a scarce and diminishing water resources situation, the size of the population becomes an important factor in estimating future water demand. Until recently, the general policy was to encourage a high population growth rate to cope with the fast growing economy, which required more skilled manpower to implement the ambitious development plans introduced as a consequence of the high oil revenues and the large surface area of the country. This tendency should now be reversed and central planning bodies be required to preach lower rates of population growth. Appropriate measures for birth control need to be taken and public awareness campaigns frequently organized.


Sound management of the country’s scarce water resources requires that certain measures be adopted, including those considered below.

· Improve water use efficiency at farm level by urging the agricultural banks to grant loans for the installation of drip and localized irrigation systems. This applies particularly to the irrigation of trees and in greenhouses for production of vegetables. Factories for the production of modern irrigation systems (drip and sprinkler) already exist. These industries should be encouraged and their products subsidized.

· Improve the water distribution networks in cities and introduce an effective billing system based on regular readings of water meters. The current water tariffs should be periodically reviewed.

· Introduce realistic energy charges. Water extraction is currently done using submersible or centrifugal pumps driven by electrical power. Farmers are charged a fixed rate per unit of power consumed. These charges are subsidized and are much below the production cost. An immediate action could be to charge the real cost for power production and distribution, in addition to establishing a progressive tariff system that encourages water saving and penalizes wastage. All farms are equipped with electricity meters, and certain farms in the Gefara Plain are equipped with water meters as well. Electricity meters are more reliable for the purpose of billing for water consumption.

· Rationalize production unit size. Public agricultural projects are inefficient in terms of water application and productivity. Economically, they are also costly to operate. An immediate remedy would be to subdivide these projects into smaller sized units of 5 ha each.

· Implement rigorously the water and agricultural legislation. This would save large quantities of water and considerably reduce the number of water wells in the affected zones.

· Grant the water sector independence from the Secretariat of Agriculture. A high-level council should also be formed and entrusted with the elaboration of national water policy.

· Bring all sewage treatment and desalination plants into full operation. Desalination and sewage treatment installations are currently operating at less than design capacity, when in fact they could play a major role in augmenting water supply. An immediate action would be to bring all sewage treatment plants to full-scale operational status and to expand the construction of additional plants whenever conditions allow. Water produced could be used in nearby farming areas for irrigation of fruit trees and for fodder production.


Libya is already facing a critical water shortage, which could lead to a serious crisis in the future. The country is increasingly depleting its precious groundwater resources, most of which are non-renewable.

Imbalance between supply and demand, low standards of service, water quality deterioration, inefficiency in use and institutional and administrative difficulties are among the various problems of the water sector. Certain actions have been taken to overcome these problems. They include legislative measures, inter-basin water transfer and development of non-conventional sources. Further action should include upgrading of water use efficiency, development of potential natural resources, improvement of irrigation systems and agricultural practices, introduction of water pricing, emphasizing the application of legislative measures, and - most importantly - increasing public awareness and population growth control.


Dadesh, A.M. 1996. Modelling the Libyan Population. PhD thesis, University of Warsaw, Poland.

FAO. 1995a. [FAO/UNDP/World Bank]Water Sector Policy Review and Strategy Formulation - A General Framework. FAO Land and Water Bulletin, No. 3.

FAO. 1995b. Reforming Water Resources Policy - A Guide to Methods, Processes and Practices. FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper, No. 52.

General Water Authority (GWA). Various dates. Technical reports.

National Authority for Information and Documentation. 1995. Results of the Agricultural Census and Farm Surveys. Tripoli.

National Authority for Information and Documentation. 1996. Preliminary Results of the 1995 General Census. Tripoli.

Salem, O.M. 1992. The Great Man-made River Project. A partial solution to Libya’s future water supply. Water Resources Development, 8(4).

Salem, O.M. 1996a. Management of the diminishing water resources of Libya. Paper submitted to the UNIDO Workshop on the Role of Industry in the Development and Rational Use of Water Resources in the Arab Region. Amman, 13-15 May 1996.

Salem, O.M. 1996b. Groundwater legislation in Libya. Paper submitted to the OSS Sub-regional Meeting on the Northern Sahara Basin. Tunis, 12-15 May 1996.

Salem, O.M. 1997. Evaluation of Water Resources of Libya. GWA, Tripoli.

Secretariat of Planning. 1984. Results of the General Census. Tripoli.

UNDP. 1996. Human Development Report - 1996. New York: UNDP.


1. Organizational chart of the General Water Authority (GWA)

2. Water Resources Zones

3. Groundwater Basins

4. Rainfall distribution

Figure 1 Organizational chart of the General Water Authority (GWA)

Figure 2 Water Resources Zones

Key: I = Western Zone. II = Central Zone. III = Eastern Zone. IV = Southern Zone. V = Kufra and Sarir Zone.

Figure 3 Groundwater basins

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