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Great Manmade River, Libya

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


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.” [1]. The aim of the project was to supply water for agriculture as well as for municipal and industrial purposes from “fossil” water collected over 35,000 years ago in the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer. This was done through the construction of an underground network of pipes which would transport water from the Southern deserts to the northern cities of Libya. Initial feasibility studies were conducted in 1974, and construction works commenced in 1984. Evaluation and tenders for the detailed design was completed in 2005. 80% of the water provided by the project was to be used for agricultural purposes. For example, the town of Abu Shieba, located in the west of Libya, had 700HA of agricultural land before the project. After water from the project reached the town, agricultural lands increased to 1600 HA and the number of farmers increased from 117 to 305. Water intensive crops were also planted after the project, such as corn, peanuts, and vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage, as well as fruits such as oranges and grapes, thus increasing the income of farmers. The purpose of the project was to make Libya independent from imports from foreign markets by producing enough water to meet its municipal, industrial, and agricultural needs. Gaddafi had planned that land will be given to small farmers to grow produce for the domestic market. Large farms would also be established to grow crops that Libya imported. The project could also allow Libya to start an agro-business similar to the San Joaquin Valley in California, a desert valley that became one of the largest producers in the world due to irrigation works. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi called it the '8th wonder of the world', and the water delivery system positively changed the lives of Libyans across the country. During the first phase of the project in 1991, Gaddafi is quoted as saying: “After this achievement, American threats against Libya will double. The United States will make excuses, but the real reason is to stop this achievement, to keep the people of Libya oppressed.” [6] 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Great Manmade River, Libya
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Libya is located in the arid and semi-arid regions of the world and suffers from intense water shortage and poor water management. It is one of the driest countries in the world, with more than 90% of it desert land.

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Level of Investment for the conflictive project27,000,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:4,000,000
Company names or state enterprises:Dong Ah Contruction from Republic of Korea
ENKA from Turkey
Relevant government actors:Great Man-made River Authority
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Opponents of NATO's intervention in Libya
Forms of mobilization:Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Infectious diseases, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Increase in violence and crime, Specific impacts on women
Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Proposal and development of alternatives:From one side, the relevant impact assessment studies should be undertaken to know the potential damages the GMMR has caused since its construction began.
On the other hand, the population is demanding regular access to safe drinking water meaning that the government should undertake to provide this service.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Environmental impacts should generally be assessed before a major project is started. Libyan law demands that this must be done. But it did not happen in the case of the GMMR, as Khalifa Elawej, an advisor to the General Board of Environment, points out. The political decision to start was taken in view of an “acute shortage of water”. At the time, the cost of fossil water was only a tenth of that of desalinated water. To date, no environmental impact assessment has been done.
In addition, as of today, the new Libyan government has been unable to undertake to required reparations and maintenance works required to keep the GMMR functional and able to provide water regularly to the Libyan people.
Sources & Materials

[1] - Libya's thirst for 'fossil water' - BBC
[click to view]

[2] - Trouble ahead for Gaddafi's Great Man-Made River - Middle-East Eye
[click to view]

[3] - Leak in main pipeline of water desalination plant may cut water supply in Tobruk, official warns - The Libya Observer
[click to view]

[4] - Libya’s “Water Wars” and Gaddafi`s Great Man-Made River Project - Global Research
[click to view]

[5] - The Great Man-Made River of Gaddafi: What Happened To It? - AnonHQ
[click to view]

[6] - NATO bombs the Great Man-Made River - Human Rights Investigations
[click to view]

[7] - GMR (Great Man-Made River) Water Supply Project
[click to view]

[8] - Freshwater from the desert - Development and Cooperation
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Christophe Maroun - [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3317
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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