Tapping into Libyan Resources: After Years in the Doldrums, Foreign Investment in Libya Is Poised for Take off and, Ironically, the Internationally Much Maligned Great Man Made River Project Will Provide the Launch Pad for This Renewed Economic Activity. (Water)

By Ford, Neil | The Middle East, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Tapping into Libyan Resources: After Years in the Doldrums, Foreign Investment in Libya Is Poised for Take off and, Ironically, the Internationally Much Maligned Great Man Made River Project Will Provide the Launch Pad for This Renewed Economic Activity. (Water)


Ford, Neil, The Middle East


Libya has not been a favourite destination for foreign investment for many years. The country's policies of tight economic control, coupled with Tripoli's reputation as a staunch opponent of the West and a rather Byzantine bureaucracy, excluded even the most determined investors. Yet the gradual process of rapprochement with the international political community, plus with a growing desire on the part of the Libyan political elite to attract foreign capital, has put the country back on the map as far as many major corporations are concerned. While oil and gas companies are queuing up to take acreage, growing foreign investment in another sector has gone almost unnoticed. Like most countries in the Middle East and North Africa, water plays a key role in the Libyan national conscience. The scarcity of accessible water resources shaped the development of all desert cultures and Libya's economic policy today remains heavily influenced by the desire to improve the water security situation. The nation's hydrocarbon riches have given it the capacity to embark upon a major investment programme, with an increasing number of contracts on offer to foreign companies.

Somewhat ironically, the main plank in Libyan water strategy is a scheme to transport water from the Sahara to the less arid coastal plain in the north. The Great Man Made River (GMMR) is advertised by Libya as the `Eighth Wonder of the World'. It is undoubtedly a remarkable project of engineering prowess. Developed at a projected total cost of over $25bn, construction work has been underway since 1990 but is now being stepped up in an effort to enable the economic diversification that the country so badly needs.

Huge reservoirs of ground water lie beneath the Sahara in both the south west and the south east of the country. While this water could be tapped locally, these regions are very sparsely populated and so the water would be of little immediate use. However, the GMMR scheme will pipe water to the coastal fringe to enable urban growth and industrial development, and also to create agricultural land that has remained unused since Libya was the bread basket of the Roman Empire. The `river' in the name of the GMMR refers to the project's 4000 km of pipelines, which have a massive four metre diameter, enabling huge volumes of water to be transported.

South Korean firm Dong Ah managed the construction of phases one and two of the five stage project, which were completed at a total cost of $10.2bn. Completed in 1994 and 2000 respectively, the two phases have boosted water supply to Benghazi, the country's second biggest city, by 2m cubic metres of water a day (cm/d), to the Jeffara plain by 1m cm/d and to Tripoli by 2.5m cm/d. As a result, huge areas of new agricultural land have been created. Nippon Koei UK, the British subsidiary of Japanese company Nippon Koei, has submitted conceptual designs for phase three of the project to the GMMR Authority. This phase will supply an additional 1.7m cm/d via a new well field in the Kufra region and pipelines to Agedabia, in addition to the Al Jaghboub extension to Tobruk. The engineering, procurement and construction tenders for the Jaghboub link are likely to be launched during the second half of 2003. Other contracts on phase three have been awarded to the UK's Halcrow Group. In January 2003, the GMMR Management and Implementation Authority launched the tender for the procurement, supply and installation contracts on phase four, and a number of foreign firms are expected to submit bids.

GMMR piped water will also be used to enable the growth of the tourist industry along the coast. Although still on a small scale, Libya has all the key natural ingredients to become a major Mediterranean tourist destination: sun, sea, sand and many well preserved historical sites. It also has the key advantage of having warm weather for longer than the main tourist destinations of southern Europe. Apart from the country's political reputation, the main obstacle to increased tourist numbers is the lack of infrastructure. …

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Tapping into Libyan Resources: After Years in the Doldrums, Foreign Investment in Libya Is Poised for Take off and, Ironically, the Internationally Much Maligned Great Man Made River Project Will Provide the Launch Pad for This Renewed Economic Activity. (Water)
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