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World Humanitarian Day: Libyan farmers struggle with climate change

31 Aug 2021

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Fathi Mazen's farm in Al-Zahra, Libya, has dried up over the years due to long dry spells as a result of climate change. © OCHA Libya 

Fathi Mazen, a local farmer, stands in front of his grandfather’s once-fertile and green farm in Al-Zahra, Libya. His eyes fill with sorrow as he looks across the 25 acres of dried-up land. Even the few olive trees still standing look brittle, as last year brought almost no rain. 

On the outskirts of Tripoli, the Al-Zahra area was once filled with lush green farms. But today, Libyan farmers struggle as the land is now barren and dry. Many farmers went out of business and sold their farms to urban housing developments.

“There has been no rain in the past years, so most farms became like this,” explains Fathi. “Underground water is the only water source, but you have to dig over 230 metres deep, as the water levels of the wells have been dropping significantly since the 1990s. It’s also very expensive; it costs over 75,000 dinars (around US$15,000) to dig a well that deep. Most people can’t afford this,” he adds. 

Libya has been facing the threat of climate change for decades. The long-standing dry spell and extreme weather conditions have severely impacted food production, water sources and human life. With rising temperatures and an increasing number of extreme weather events, the future for many Libyan farmers looks bleak. 

Frequent electricity cuts, which now extend to more than 12 hours a day, add to their struggle. 

“You have to wait for power to return to pump water to the water tanks, or you need to buy a generator powerful enough to run the pump, which is too expensive to afford,” Fathi says. Only a few farms have fully functioning water wells in his area. 

Fathi’s farm used to boast green fields of vegetables, as well as orange, peach, apricot, plum and peanut trees. He also used to have sheep and chickens, but the dry spell meant there was nothing left to feed them. The farm was sustained by its own produce, and it provided jobs for families nearby. 

“Most farms went out of business. Many sold their land,” Fathi explains. “People around here resort to water trucks to buy water for their personal use. It costs over 50 dinars ($10) per load and it only lasts about week.” 

Without any available farming loans or subsidies for fertilizers and insecticides, most farmers are left to fend for themselves. 

“My farm used to be so green, you could walk in the shadow of the trees,” Fathi remembers. 

© OCHA Libya 

Those days and trees are long gone, but concrete measures can still help to turn things around for Fathi and thousands of other farmers. Better water management, sustainable planning and policies for climate action are vital in the global race against rising temperatures. 

Recent heatwaves across Libya, amid acute power cuts and the rapid spread of COVID-19, as well as continuous damage to the water system and the drying of the Wadi Kaam Dam, pose acute threats to people’s lives, while time is running out to act. 

For World Humanitarian Day on 19 August, OCHA called on the public to remind developed countries at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November to fulfil their 12-year-old pledge to provide $100 billion per year for developing countries to respond to climate change and support climate adaptation. Hosted on the leading exercise app Strava, #TheHumanRace challenged users in Libya and around the world to take action in solidarity with the world’s most vulnerable people.