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April 26, 2011

NATO warned against strikes on Libya's 'great river'

NATO-led air strikes on Libya could trigger a human and environmental disaster if they were to damage the country's massive Great Man-Made River (GMMR) project, which facilitates agricultural production in the middle of the Sahara Desert and provides drinking water for over 70% of the Libyan population.
The Great Man-Made River (GMMR) project – globally recognised as the largest water transport system in the world – is among the lesser-known projects undertaken by Muammar Gaddafi, who himself describes the undertaking as the eighth wonder of the world.

The Western world is virtually unaware that underneath the North African country's arid landscape lies a true ocean of high quality fresh water, discovered by chance in the 1950s as part of efforts to find oil in southern Libya.

The artificial river project was conceived in the 1960s and launched in 1984. Today, a total of 4,000 kilometres of pipelines of four metres in diameter have been laid at a depth of two to three metres, running across the country from south to north.

High-quality fossil water is being pumped from hundreds of wells hundreds of metres deep and transported from the south to populated coastal areas in the north, where most of the country's six million inhabitants live and work.

At a cost of over €23 billion, paid for with Libyan petrodollars, and owned by the Great Man-Made River Project Authority, the most expensive irrigation project in history is part of Gaddafi's plan to make Libya self-sufficient in food by irrigating remote agricultural areas in the Sahara Desert.

According to the European Commission, "over 70% of the water from this man-made river system is intended for agricultural purposes". 130,000 hectares of agricultural land are expected to derive from implementing the project, the EU executive added.

The underground ocean, called the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS), is the world's largest fossil water aquifer scheme to date. Libya shares it with three other African nations – Chad, Sudan and Egypt. According to the UN, at current extraction rates the NSAS is not likely to be depleted for a thousand years.

Late last year, Turkish and Libyan delegations met in Tripoli to discuss the possibility of allocating 60,000 hectares of agricultural land in Libya for Turkish investors to produce wheat and corn.

As NATO bombs continue to fall, an emergency meeting was held on Sunday (3 April) by the managing committee of the artificial river project to alert the world about the gravity of the potential consequences if the infrastructure is damaged, according to press sources.

At a press conference held in the project's ultra-modern control room in the southern suburbs of Tripoli, the project leader, Abdelmajid Gahoud warned against a "human and environmental disaster" if the infrastructure is affected by NATO air raids, AFP reported.

Gahoud told journalists that if any part of the infrastructure is damaged, the whole network will be affected and the flow of water that might escape would deprive 4.5 million Libyans of drinking water.

In a joint statement issued after the emergency meeting, the Libyan Secretariat of General People's Committee (Ministry) on Agriculture and the executive committee of the Great Man-Made River urged the UN and its specialised food and environmental agencies to demand that Western coalition forces stop aerial bombing in the regions of Brega, Ajdabia and Benghazi, in the north and east, where the artificial river system is installed, according to press sources.


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