Libya is a desert country, and finding fresh water has always been a problem.
Few may know that Libya sits over the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, a freshwater deep underground in the desert. The amount of water is estimated by scientists to be the equivalent to 200 years of water flowing down the Nile. Most of this water was collected between 38,000 and 14,000 years ago, though some pockets are thought to be only 7,000 years old.
There are four major underground basins. The Kufra basin which is located in the south-east, covers an area of 350,000 square kilometres, forming an aquifer more than 2,000m deep.
The Great Man-Made River Project (GMMRP), which Gaddafi built for $25 billion, is a network of pipelines used to transport 6.5 million cubic metres of fresh water per day from the desert to Tripoli, Benghazi and the Libyan coastline. According to its website, it is the largest underground network of pipes (5000 km) and aqueducts in the world.
Following the Great Al-Fatah Revolution in 1969, industrialisation put greater strain on water supplies. Coastal aquifers were contaminated with sea water, becoming undrinkable. Finding a supply of fresh, clean water became a government priority, and luckily, oil exploration in the 1950s had uncovered vast aquifers beneath Libya's desert.
After comparing the costs of desalination or water transportation from Europe, economists decided that the cheapest option was to construct a network of pipelines to deliver water from these vast aquifers to the coastal cities.
The initial feasibility studies were conducted in 1974, and ten years later, in 1984, the Great Man-Made River Project commenced. The project, which still has an estimated 25 years to run, was designed in five phases. These will eventually combine to form an integrated system.
As a result, Libya is now a world leader in hydrological engineering, and it wants to export its expertise to other African and Middle-Eastern countries facing similar problems with their water.
When completed, irrigation water from the GMMRP will enable about 155,000ha of land to be cultivated - echoing Gaddafi’s original prediction that the project would make the desert "as green as the country's flag". This coupled with its ideally placed location AND oil revenues will allow Libya to play an increasingly influential role in the global economy.
Libya had money to pay for the project, but it did not have the technical expertise for such an undertaking, so it invited companies from South Korea, Turkey, Germany, Japan, the Philippines and the UK to offer assistance.
The project is owned by the Great Man-Made River Authority and funded by the Libyan Government.
Brown & Root and Price Brothers produced the original project design and the main contractor for the initial phases was Dong Ah, with Enka Construction and Al Nah acting as sub-contractors.
The preliminary engineering and design contractor for phase III is the Nippon Koei / Halcrow consortium.
The Frankenthal KSB consortium won the pumping station construction and technical support contract.
SNC-Lavalin - responsible for the pipe production plant O&M.
Libyan Cement - concrete.
Thane-Coat and Harkmel - pipeline coating services.
Corrintec - cathodic protection system.
ThyssenKrupp Fördertechnik - technical services for the excavation planning.
By Siobhan Young, Consultant for Upper Quartile LLP. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Libya Business News