Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Size of Country Made it Hard to Explore Further

Since the earliest known civilisations that had settled in North Africa, particularly in Libya, the coastal belt that stretches from Tunisia in the west, to Egypt in the east, was the region more readily developed, from the days of the Phoenicians to almost contemporary times.During the ancient era the immensity of the physical size of the land was perhaps one of the factors that prevented those early settlers from exploring further inland.And as the centuries rolled by, the hinterland was gradually opened up to the caravan routes which criss-crossed the central desert of Africa to reach deep into the heart of the continent itself.Those were long and arduous journeys, a challenge to the elements themselves, and a mirror of the determination of the nomadic tribes who were able to travel from destination to destination using only the most primitive means of navigation.The inhospitable wilderness of the Sahara discouraged not only the earliest settlers, but also the latter-day powers that over the centuries had occupied Libya.In fact, up to the period of the Italian occupation, no serious effort was made to explore the interior of the country and the Italians themselves preferred to restrict their activities to the coastal belt.In complete contrast to the desert, only a few hundred kilometres inland, the Cyrenaica littoral is itself a region that is immensely fertile.It is in this area that the highest rainfall is recorded in Libya, and the agricultural wealth of northern Cyrenaica is manifest in the fertility of the Green Mountain range, and the wealth of flora that its slopes and valleys inevitably support.However, not all of Cyrenaica is as fertile as the northern region of this eastern part of Libya.The region itself stretches southwards towards the range of the Tibesti Mountains where the inhospitability and barrenness of the desert is manifest in all its forbidding emptiness.It is in this region that the Great Sand and the Qattara Depression are to be found. That immense stretch of lifeless wilderness is only interrupted by a magnificent oasis that is fed by the waters of the distant Nile River.Nonetheless, in this very region there is an abundance of subterranean water.In several parts this water seeps slowly to the surface and wherever this takes place a few scattered oases have come to life.In these infrequent and scattered regions, animal and vegetable life clings precariously to the scarce quantities of water that lies beneath the sand.The Sahara Desert stretches across Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan. The most arid part of the Sahara is the Libyan Desert which is in the east. Moisture is almost totally absent and few oases exist. Sandy wastes and large sand dunes, many which reach the height of 122 m or more are a characteristic of the region. This area at one time was fertile. Evidence of the cultivation of millet over 8,000 years ago exists. Desertification set in as conditions gradually became drier causing the farmers to abandon their land.The region is almost totally without rainfall or surface water, but a number of underground rivers flow from the Atlas mountains and other sources. In a few places the water finds its way to the surface forming oases where the fertile soil permits the cultivation of crops using irrigation techniques suited to the area. Date palms and some types of acacia grow in the desert. Outside of the oases the region is almost devoid of vegetation except for a few stunted, thorny shrubs.But it is beneath this inhospitable exterior, where beyond the boundaries of the few scattered oases nothing survives, that most of Libya’s mineral water lies.Deep in the ancient rock formations vast quantities of oil are to be found, and it was only relatively recently that this immense source of mineral wealth was discovered and exploited.The first oil discoveries were made during that unenviable period in the history of Libya when the country was still a so-called constitutional monarchy.During those early years of oil exploration Libya was opened up to the international monopoly companies and although it is largely accepted that the monarchy received its due royalties from this profitable industry, there is nothing to suggest that that revenue was spent to develop the country and to improve the life of the people themselves.On the contrary, there is documented evidence to prove that oil revenue was largely channelled into the pockets of the privileged few. Thus, the gap between those who did not have and the more privileged elite continued to grow, to reach such proportions that whereas a rich minority was living a life of unbounded luxury, the large majority of the people was abandoned without adequate social services, housing, medical care, education and so on.Thus, the shanty towns that started to abound along the suburban area of Tripoli and the other major coastal cities, overpopulated by a local population that had been deluded to believe in the petroleum dream.The situation was to drastically change after the monarchy was overthrown on September 1, 1960, and the Revolution embarked upon a process of political and economic change intended to make the people masters of their own wealth in a society in which authority was to be decentralised, and also transferred into the hands of the masses.In fact, soon after the Al Fateh Revolution the foreign oil companies were nationalised. So were the foreign banks and other foreign financial institutions. As a result, for the first time in modern history, the wealth of the country started to be spent on the needs of the people.Thus, over a relatively short period of time Libya was to be transformed from what the United Nations had once described as one of the poorest and more backward nations, into a modern state.It is only in recent years that the foreign oil companies were welcomed back, this time however, under new conditions that greatly benefit the country.