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Water Use in Libya

Libyan desert water use in Libya
Photo 2: Irrigated fields in the Libyan Sahara Desert. (Source: Carsten ten Brink, Flickr)

Water consumption in Libya is rising as a result of population increase, urbanisation and improving economic conditions. In addition, irrigated agriculture is intensifying in the coastal zone as well as in the oases and along wadis, Even so, domestic water use varies greatly, from less than 150 litre per capita per day (L/cap./d) in small rural settlements to more than 300 L/cap./d in major cities.[1]

Current water use per sector and analysis of possible deficit

Water demand is increasing, and actions to avoid a possible water crisis have so far been insufficient. The agriculture, domestic and industrial sectors are putting particular stress on demand (Figure 1).

Agricultural use: The estimated agricultural water use in 2012 was 4,850MCM, or about 85% of water demand.[3] This amount continues to increase as the actual mining is not well known and uncontrolled withdrawals of groundwater for agricultural purposes.[4]

  • Agricultural
  • Domestic
  • Industrial

Figure 1: Percentage of water use by the agriculture, domestic and industrial sectors (2012).[2]

Domestic use: The estimated domestic water use in 2012 was 700 MCM, used by almost 89% of the residents living in urban communities, differing in size from 5,000 to more than 1 million inhabitants.[5] A 2012 study of urban water use, which considered the size of the city and age of the supply network, concluded that average water consumption ranged from 150 to 300 L/cap./d.[6] The same study found that in rural areas people depended on private wells, rainwater reservoirs and spring for water supply and average water consumption ranged between 100 and 150 L/cap./d.

Industrial use: Water for industrial use is the smallest of all the sectors, making up less than 4% of total demand,[7] or 280 MCM in 2012.[8]The water-consuming industries are chemical, petrochemical, steel, textile and power generation as well as desalination of seawater, although most of the industrial water is used for the oil industry (injection, processing and some domestic use). A number of industries depend on private sources of water supply.[9]Even if industrial water demand grows considerably within the coming years, the amount will always be negligible when compared to agricultural consumption.[10]

Projected water use

Projected water use in Libya only extends to 2025. Figure 2 shows predicted domestic consumption from 1984 to 2025, and Figure 3 shows the industrial water consumption for the same period. Both display an increasing trend. Meanwhile, Table 1 indicates water withdrawals from different basins for agricultural use for the years 1978-2010.[11]

Figure 2: Domestic water consumption(1995-2025).[12]

Figure 3: Industrial water consumption 1995-2025.[13]

Management of water use (preservation and protection) requires additional focus on the main consumer sector. Although agriculture accounts for about 85% of the total water use, Libya still imports most of its food.[15]

However, management of water use still focuses almost exclusively on supply. As population growth and its effects on water demand are the most important aspects disturbing water management, a shift from management of water supply to management of water demand is essential to balance Libya’s water budget.[16]

Agricultural water use and irrigation development

Table 1: Water withdrawals for agricultural use (1978-2010).[14]

Basin19781984199520052010
Hamada173,1241,2260350350
Jabal Al Akhdar79,5150,5469480480
Kufra and Sarir216,5335335650905
Jifarah43550096511101110
Murzuk372,555175118482077
Total1276,61777,7278044384922

As a result of rising urbanisation, standards of living and economic conditions in Libya, the irrigated area has increased over the past 40 years.[17] At present, it is estimated that the irrigated area ranges between 350,000 and 500,000 hectares (ha), with water needs that vary from less than 10,000 m3/ha to more than 20,000 m3/ha, depending on the location, type of crop and irrigation method.[18] Although the agricultural sector is the main consumer of water, it contributes only a small amount to the economy (less than 10% of Libya’s total income).[19]

Since 1970, several water-efficient irrigation methods have been successfully introduced. Among them are sprinkler and drip irrigation in Kufra in eastern Libya and in Garaboulli, about 60 km east of Tripoli. However, many parts of the irrigated areas are either over-irrigated or under-irrigated because of spatial variability in soil water capacity, infiltration rates and topography.[20]

A 2018 study of the application of precision irrigation concluded that to enhance the efficient use of precision irrigation in Libya, supplementary studies are needed that consider the water/area/energy ratio, on which selection of precision irrigation technology should be based.[21]

[1] General Water Authority , 2014 , Water and Energy for Life in Libya (WELL) , Project funded by the European Commission No. 295143, FP7, Libya.
[2] Abdalla El-Sonni, 2014.Presentation on water resources management and strategy in Libya. 5+5 Water Strategy for the Western editerranean.1stworkshop. Valencia, 25-26 February 2014.
[3] General Water Authority , 2014 , Water and Energy for Life in Libya (WELL) , Project funded by the European Commission No. 295143, FP7, Libya.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] General Water Authority , 2014 , Water and Energy for Life in Libya (WELL) , Project funded by the European Commission No. 295143, FP7, Libya.
[7] Ibid.
[8] General Water Authority , 2014 , Water and Energy for Life in Libya (WELL) , Project funded by the European Commission No. 295143, FP7, Libya.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Pallas,P. And Omar Salem, 1999.Waterresources utilisation and management of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya . Managing Non-renewable Resources Conference. Tripoli, Libya.
[11] Abdalla El-Sonni, 2014.Presentation on water resources management and strategy in Libya. 5+5 Water Strategy for the Western editerranean.1stworkshop. Valencia, 25-26 February 2014.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] General Water Authority , 2014 , Water and Energy for Life in Libya (WELL) , Project funded by the European Commission No. 295143, FP7, Libya.
[16] General Water Authority , 2014 , Water and Energy for Life in Libya (WELL) , Project funded by the European Commission No. 295143, FP7, Libya.
[17] General Water Authority , 2014 , Water and Energy for Life in Libya (WELL) , Project funded by the European Commission No. 295143, FP7, Libya.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Khalil I. Al-Samarrai and Saleh Sadeg, 2018. Precision irrigation efficient technologies practices in Libya from the water and energy point of view. White paper published for the5TOI_4EWAS, H2020 project.
[21] Ibid.