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News Libya: what role for Great Man-Made River Project in conflict?

Rumours that the huge underground pipes of the Great Man-Made River Project (GMRP) are hiding Libyan tanks and missiles, have re-emerged during the current conflict. Back in in 1997, the New York Times reported that the US$ 33 billion project, which provides 6.5 million cubic metres a day to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Sirt and elsewhere, “has some clandestine military purpose”. Now, in April 2011, the Guardian newspaper reported that the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is hiding his armour from NATO air strikes in the irrigation tunnels of the GMRP.

Earlier, the Libyan government warned that the NATO-led air strikes could cause a “human and environmental disaster” if they damaged the GMRP. Engineer and project manager Abdelmajid Gahoud said that three pipelines, one for gas, one for oil and another for water, run underground parallel to the 400-kilometre-long road from the eastern city of Benghazi to Sirte, through an area where there had been many coalition air raids.

“If part of the infrastructure is damaged, the whole thing is affected and the massive escape of water could cause a catastrophe,” he added, leaving 4.5 million thirsty Libyans deprived of drinking water.

One conspiracy theory that is proving popular on Internet forums is that the war in Libya is all about water and not oil. Even veteran journalist Phillip Knightley joins in with his commentary published in the Khaleej Times:

Gaddafi’s project offers limitless amounts of water for Libyans and will allow them to be totally self-sufficient, and because water equates money and power in the near future, other countries may be dependent on its reserves. A self-sufficient, dictator-ruled nation with control over the world’s most precious resource waves a big red warning flag for the West?


Related web site: Wikipedia – Great Manmade River


  • Raymond Bonner, Libya’s Vast Desert Pipeline Could Be Conduit for Troops, New York Times, 02 Dec 1997
  • Ian Black, Have Gaddafi’s tanks gone underground?, Guardian, 18 Apr 2011
  • Libya warns of disaster if ‘Great Man-Made River’ hit, AFP, 03 Apr 2011
  • Phillip Knightley, The fight for water, Khaleej Times, 30 Apr 2011

Contact information n/a
News type Inbrief
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Source of information WASH news Middle East & North Africa
Geographical coverage Libya,
News date 16/05/2011
Working language(s) ENGLISH