Libya’s Perfect Storm: Climate Change + Political Strife

Via the New York Review, an interesting article on how climate change has brought a dangerous new dimension to the Libya’s political strife:

In a cramped, fluorescent-lit office in Tripoli up several flights of stairs, a middle-aged official and his staff labor on what is perhaps the most important work for future generations of Libyans. It’s a command center of sorts: flashing computer monitors on desks, cables everywhere, and satellite maps on the wall marked with great swirls and arrows. The battle isn’t against a military opponent, like the innumerable armed groups and their political backers who have been fighting for power and economic spoils in this oil-rich state since the ouster of Muammar Qadhafi during the NATO-backed revolution of 2011. The scourge is far more insidious, and the country’s bickering elites seem woefully unprepared to tackle it.

This is the temporary headquarters of Libya’s National Meteorological Center, a nondescript poured-concrete building tucked away on Qurji Road, named for an Ottoman naval captain who also commissioned an ornate mosque in the nearby Old City. The affable, wiry director of the center, Ali Salem Eddenjal, greets me with an apology for the tight spaces: he’s had to relocate from another part of the capital because of violent militia clashes, a story of forced displacement that many Libyans know all too well.  

Still, Eddenjal and his team press on, diligently monitoring, analyzing, forecasting, and reporting a stream of alarming data that most Libyans already experience firsthand. The country is getting hotter, its droughts more severe and prolonged, its rainfall scarcer, its sand and dust storms more powerful and frequent. The latter phenomenon was on spectacular display in March and April, when a blizzard of particulates barreled up from the Sahara and blanketed Tripoli and the surrounding region. The salmon-colored haze, stunning on Instagram, prompted the suspension of flights from the city’s airport. It also elicited a warning from the European Union Mission to Libya that the country’s authorities needed to address the current and impending effects of climate change.    

It’s an admonition that Eddenjal, who wrote a graduate thesis on climate change, doesn’t need to hear. For years he’s been forecasting the devastating effects of anthropogenic global warming on his water-stressed country of nearly seven million people—effects that will be exacerbated by years of conflict, corruption, infrastructural decay, and environmental deterioration. The startling picture he paints in many ways augurs the future of much of North Africa and the Middle East. Libya’s mean annual temperature, along with that of the entire southern Mediterranean, is climbing faster than the rest of the world’s, and is expected to increase two degrees Celsius by 2050. Yearly rainfall is decreasing at a similarly rapid clip, while sea levels along Libya’s long coast are rising by as much as three millimeters per year. 

In a desert country where the vast majority of the population resides in a narrow sliver of territory near the sea, these changes will be catastrophic. As heat, drought, and food insecurity take their toll on Libya’s interior, the already feeble service and sanitation infrastructure in northern cities and towns will buckle under an influx of Libyans from the hinterland, who join the thousands of citizens still displaced by war. Potable water, eighty percent of which is tapped from fossil aquifers deep in the desert by a system of pipelines called the Great Man-Made River, will be diminished by the evaporation of open reservoirs and unsustainable extraction. With soaring temperatures also comes more demand for electricity, which will push an overburdened grid to the point of failure, with life-threatening consequences for health and food security. Meanwhile, storms will surge over shoddy drainage systems, and some coastal areas, like the eastern port city of Benghazi, will be severely damaged or inundated.

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 4th, 2022 at 3:26 pm and is filed under Libya.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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