Gaddafi Could Use Water As A Weapon In Conflict

Libya’s government forces could use their control over enormous water reserves as a weapon in the current conflict between Gaddafi and rebels trying to overthrow his regime

The ‘Great Man-Made River’, a great civil water works project dubbed by Gaddafi as the 8th wonder of the world, was built to resolve Libya’s severe water scarcity problems. With many parts of the country receiving less than 100 millimeters of rainfall per year, the country is one of the driest in the world and many of its inhabitants now rely on the river and its water reserves for their existence.

Every day, the Great Man-Made River (GMMR) pumps around 5 million cubic metres of fresh water from underground aquifers in southern Libya to the country’s six million inhabitants in the north. Yet this reliance on the water from the GMMR could place inhabitants at risk, as the operating centre for their water is at the heart of the pro-Gaddaffi city of Tripoli.

In the mid 1950’s, oil exploration in the deserts of south Libya uncovered large underground aquifers with vast quantities of fresh water- for example, the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System alone is estimated to cover 2 million square kilometres and contain 150,000 cubic kilometres of groundwater.

Later in the early 1980’s, Gaddafi announced his epic plans to build the ‘Great Man-Made River’ which would make the most of these aquifers and help resolve the poor water quality in Libya’s northern cities. At an estimated cost of nearly 30 billion dollars, the GMMR has a network of nearly 5,000 kilometres of pipelines which bring fresh water into the cities and also increase the amount of arable land for agriculture.

As Ivan Ivekovic, professor of political science at the American University of Cairo told IPS, “The GMMR provides 70 percent of the population with water for drinking and irrigation, pumping it from Libya’s vast underground aquifers like the NSAS [Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System] in the south to populated coastal areas 4,000 kilometres to the north.”

Whilst there were concerns that NATO air-strikes on the GMMR pipelines could spark a humanitarian crisis, there is a possibility that pro-government forces may disrupt the water flow to cities opposed to Gaddafi. Many opposition-held regions in the east are extremely vulnerable to water cuts and if the water from GMMR was withheld, they would have to rely on the Ajdabiya reservoir which only holds one month’s supply of water.

:Image via brqnetwork/flickr.

::IPS News

For more on Libya and water see:

Libyan Violence Dampens Great Man-Made River Project

Libya Touts Great Man-Made River Project As 8th Wonder of the World

Libyan Revolution Will End Gaddafi’s Green Visions

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