Geography lesson

A reminder of where the Libyan population and oilfields are.

From the AP :

Libyan rebels still hold much of the country’s western coastal strip, including their de facto capital in Benghazi.

Time for a little geography lesson. Benghazi is in the east.
Credit: blogger Robert Price of Colorado

The population density map is apparently based on administrative divisions and understates the polarisation. Similar map here. As Google Earth and night views from satellites show, to a first approximation Libya consists of a thin populated ribbon along its 1,770 km coastline, with an enormous Altogether Uninhabited Interior bar scattered oilfields, oases, camels, Bedouin, and legacy minefields from the Afrika Korps and the Eighth Army.

The ribbon is not of even density and most of the population is either in the western strip (Tripolitania) or the eastern (Cyrenaica). The rebels hold Cyrenaica, and its main cities Benghazi and Tobruk. Gaddafi holds Tripolitania, with a rebel enclave at Misurata.

According to this Tripoli-based site, presumably functioning with Gaddafi’s approval,

About 80 percent of Libya’s proven oil reserves are located in the Sirte basin, which is responsible for 90 percent of the country’s oil output.

The gas is in the west, but of lower value and tied up in long-term supply contracts. The gas pipeline to Italy has anyway been closed, apparently at the initiative of the Spanish and Italian companies running the fields. Gaddafi can’t be getting much money from either oil or gas.

The oil map was, one assumes, relevant to the decision by the international coalition to back the rebels. But there’s a snag. Most of the pipelines run to the coast at small towns in the Gulf of Sidra between the main areas of government and rebel control, Ra’s Lanuf and Mersa Brega – which Gaddafi’s forces have retaken. The rebels have got to take them back, or else build new pipelines to the terminal at Tobruk they already control. From what I’ve seen on TV, they don’t have the sort of forces capable of taking a town defended by regular troops with armour; and the coalition has ruled out giving them any. New pipelines will take time.
Update 27 March: The rebels have recaptured Ajdabiya and driven west along the coast road as far as Brega. I’m glad they seem to be proving me wrong. /update
Update 2, 29 March The rebels, still looking on camera as if they were just hired in a bus terminal, have made see-saw progress westwards. Having failed to capture Sirte, they are now defending Bin Jawad for the second time. Since this is to the west of Ra’s Lanuf, the rebels currently hold all the oil terminals for the Sirte basin. /update 2
Update 3, 30 March The pendulum swings back – Gaddafi forces have driven the rebels back to Brega./update 3

We haven’t heard much from the oilfields. I trust the coalition is stretching the truth about “no ground troops”, and that the drillers have had their security reinforced willy-nilly by very fit young men of various nationalities and unclear identities who don’t know much about drilling mud but seem pretty handy with radios, explosives and small arms. The Brits among them will remember that the area gave birth to the forerunner of the SAS.

Stalemate and de facto partition look the likeliest short-term outcomes. If Gaddafi collapses, it will be due to the invisible economic warfare imposed by Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, rather than because of the flashy no-fly zone.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

9 thoughts on “Geography lesson”

  1. I’m having a hard time figuring out the units of population density…
    1. persons/square mile
    2. persons/square km
    3. something else?

  2. Gaddafi can’t be getting much money from either oil or gas.

    The national bank allegedly hold 143 tons of gold – more than $6 billion – not counting whatever hard currency it holds. He doesn’t need to earn money for many months at least.

  3. Thanks for this, James. I’ve been thinking that de facto partition seemed pretty likely as well (and I hereby pre-empt the rights to jokes regarding “a line in the sand”).

  4. Warren: Where is the gold? If it’s not physically in Tripoli, and consists of labels on gold bars in Zürich, it’s no use to him. And just how is he supposed to transport gold in tonnage quantities to Dubai (or maybe not, the UAE have sent jets to help overthrow him) or some other market where he can sell it? Back-street dealers in Bulawayo or Caracas or Minsk can’t absorb the quantities he needs.

  5. HyperIon: Prince’s map shows absolute population, density is inferred. The other linked map from bestcountryreports shows population per square km. Either way, my point is that any choropleth map using administrative divisions is misleading in the circumstances. viz. 78% coastal urbanization. What we really need is a population dot map, as here for China. A satellite night map is a reasonable cheap-and-cheerful proxy for this. You have to discount the bright patches in the desert which must be oil- or gas-field flares.

  6. I trust the coalition is stretching the truth about “no ground troops”. Why not just say they’re lying?

  7. I trust the coalition is stretching the truth about “no ground troops”. Why not just say they’re lying?

    On second thought, if there was no expectation that people, or at least serious people, would believe “no ground troops”, then there was no intention to deceive — which for me is the essence of lying.

  8. James, I’m not arguing that he can maintain a functioning economy, that he can pick up the trash or educate the kids; I’m arguing that he can pay mercenaries, and sanctions-busters. Assuming, of course, that he indeed has gold bars and bales of dollars in Tripoli – but that seems like a reasonable bet. And the longer he holds on, with a grip on oil-rich western Libya, the more likely that he can muster support from the more amoral quarters, people who see an opportunity in his retaining significant assets while being cheap due to lessened international respectability. Assuming he can hold on to Western Libya for a month or two – and it appears that the Rebel forces in the east aren’t militarily significant, and for tribal reasons it may be relatively difficult for their rebellion to spread – there may be no reason he can’t hold on to it for another generation.

    Larry, I don’t think the coalition is deliberately lying about “no ground troops” – more like hoping. My guess is that they were hoping that a morale boost from air strikes and the destruction of some armored vehicles would give the rebels the opportunity to overthrow Gaddafi with no ground troops being necessary. And if that isn’t sufficient, I think most of the coalition won’t be willing to supply the ground troops to make it happen. Our governments have taken sides, and it’s awfully hard to take sides only so far; the slippery slope may still mean ground troops. This is one reason that many people opposed military involvement, but my assumption at least is that the coalition governments are still hoping not to venture onto that slope.

Comments are closed.