Libya’s great man-made river
In the 1950s, oil exploration in southern Libya revealed an unexpected but almost as valuable find: fresh water. Libya has no natural waterways, little rainfall and is 90% desert, so the find was significant. The vast resources are part of the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, the world’s largest fossil-water reserve, which spreads over 2 million km2 across Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Chad – the lion’s share of which is in Libya.
The idea of the Great Man-Made River (GMMR), mooted by Muammar Qadhafi in the 1960s and 1970s, was to transfer groundwater from southern Libya to coastal regions where 94% of the country’s population lives. The GMMR was planned in five phases: work began in 1984 and the first two phases, the ?Tazerbo-Benghazi and Hassouna-Tripoli links, were completed in 1991 and 1996, respectively. Phases three and four are still under construction. The entire GMMR project is scheduled to be complete in 2020 and will supply 6m cubic metres of water per day.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $27bn but is hard to verify. Even harder to measure is the environmental impact of such a large-scale transfer. There are many concerns about its sustainability, both environmentally and economically, and the project is thought to have a life expectancy of only 50 years. Groundwater withdrawals in the Nubian Sandstone System have grown exponentially and the GMMR alone will not quench Libya’s thirst. National leaders claim to be determined to improve water-usage policies, but much political negotiating will be required for a change of course.?