The 1st of September marks the anniversary of the opening of the major stage of Libya’s Great Man-Made River Project.
This incredibly huge and successful water scheme is virtually unknown in the West, yet it rivals and even surpasses all our greatest development projects.
Up until recently, Libya’s supply of water came from underground aquifers or desalination plants on the coast. But water derived from desalination or aquifers near the coast was of poor quality and sometimes undrinkable. This problem also meant that little water was available to irrigate land for agriculture, which is vital in this largely desert country.
In the 1960s during oil exploration deep in the southern Libyan desert, vast reservoirs of high quality water were discovered in the form of aquifers. The most important of these aquifers, or water bearing rock strata, were laid down during a geological time when the Mediterranean sea flowed southward to the foot of the Tibesti mountains, that are situated on Libya’s border with Chad. During that period the Mediterranean sea frequently varied in level, as a result of which, various sedimentary deposits were formed.
Geological activity caused the up thrust of mountainous formations (Jabal Nefussa and Jabal Al Akhdar) and the associated downward movement formed natural underground basins.
Between 38,000 and 10,000 years ago the climate of North Africa was temperate, during which time there was considerable rainfall in Libya. The excess rainfall infiltrated into porous sandstone and was trapped between layers, forming reservoirs of underground fresh-water.
In Libya there are four major underground basins, these being the Kufra basin, the Sirt basin, the Morzuk basin and the Hamada basin, the first three of which contain combined reserves of 35,000 cubic kilometres of water. These vast reserves offer almost unlimited amounts of water for the Libyan people.
The people of Libya initiated a series of scientific studies on the possibility of accessing this vast ocean of fresh water. Early consideration was given to developing new agricultural projects close to the sources of the water, in the desert. However, it was realized that on the scale required to provide products for self sufficiency, a very large infrastructure organization would be required. In addition to this, a major redistribution of the population from the coastal belt would be necessary. The alternative was to ‘bring the water to the people’.
In October 1983, the Great Man-made River Authority was created and invested with the responsibility of taking water from the aquifers in the south, and conveying it by the most economical and practical means for use, predominantly for irrigation, in the Libyan coastal belt.
By 1996 the Great Man-Made River Project had reached one of its final stages, the gushing forth of sweet unpolluted water to the homes and gardens of the citizens of Libya’s capital Tripoli.
Louis Farrakhan, who took part in the opening ceremony of this important stage of the project, described the Great Man-Made River as “another miracle in the desert.”
The Great Man-Made River, as the largest water transport project ever undertaken, has been described as the “eighth wonder of the world”. It carries more than five million cubic metres of water per day across the desert to coastal areas, vastly increasing the amount of arable land. The total cost of the huge project is expected to exceed $25 billion (US).
Consisting of a network of pipes buried underground to eliminate evaporation, four meters in diameter, the project extends for four thousand kilometres far deep into the desert. All material is locally engineered and manufactured. Underground water is pumped from 270 wells hundreds of meters deep into reservoirs that feed the network.
The cost of one cubic meter of water equals 35 cents. The cubic meter of desalinized water is $3.75. Scientists estimate the amount of water to be equivalent to the flow of 200 years of water in the Nile River.
The goal of the Libyan Arab people, embodied in the Great Man-Made River project, is to Libya a source of agricultural abundance, capable of producing adequate food and water to supply its own needs and to share with neighboring countries.
In short, the River is literally Libya’s ‘meal ticket’ to self-sufficiency.
The Great Man-Made River Project is bringing water to the people and providing water for municipal, industrial and agricultural use. The strategy of the responsible Libyan authority is aimed at increasing both crop and livestock production to a level that achieves the highest possible rate of self-sufficiency and reduces dependence on imports from foreign markets to the lowest possible level. It also aims at increasing the productive capabilities of the labor force and of the capital investments in the sector, and at producing raw materials for food processing industries.
According to the writer Ali Baghdadi, “the river is a new lesson and an example in the struggle to achieve self-sufficiency, food security and true independence. No nation that depends on a foreign country to feed its people can be free. The Great River is a triumph against thirst and hunger. It is a defeat against ignorance and backwardness. It reflects the determination of Libyans to resist colonial pressure, to acquire technology, to develop, to improve their lives, and to control their own destiny in accordance with their own free will.”