Libya’s population growth and situation of severe drought has put a great strain on its water supply, especially since it does not have a renewable water source, relying largely on groundwater to satisfy its water demand. In the 50s and 60s, vast quantities of fresh groundwater were discovered in aquifers in the deserts of Southern Libya during oil explorations.
To make up for the gap in its traditional supplies, the Libyan government, headed by Gaddafi, undertook the largest civil engineering project in the world, popularly known as The Great Man Made River Project (GMMR), to green the northern deserts of Libya. Gaddafi claimed that he would make the desert “as green as the flag of the Libyan Jamahiriya
The project utilizes a pipeline system that pumps water from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System from down south in Libya to cities in the populous Libyan northern Mediterranean coast including Tripoli and Benghazi.
The water covers a distance of up to 1,600 kilometers and provides 70% of all freshwater used in Libya.
In 1960s, vast quantities of fresh underground water were discovered in aquifers in the southern Libya during oil exploration. Begun in 80s, and built at a cost of more than $33 billion USD, the project involved pumping water from depths of more than 500 metres, purifying it, and then sending the water to residential areas.
On 22 July, Nato warplanes attacked the pipe making plant claiming that the building had been used as military storage facility and rockets were launches from there by pro-Gaddafi troops.
By the time the uprising against Gaddafi started in early 2011, more than 70 percent of the work was completed. But with the chaos resulting from the ongoing civil war, the project and its web of infrastructure is under severe strain, threatening supplies of water to majority of Libya’s population.
Gaddafi liked to claim that the GMR was “the eighth wonder of the world.” It is in many ways a remarkable feat of engineering but the whole scheme could collapse if the mayhem in Libya continues – resulting in a chronic water crisis affecting millions of people.