Libyan Aquifers

As we have all seen and heard over the last exciting months in Libya, it is a country of deserts and oil. In other words it has problems of water but not energy. What might surprise some people is that there are huge aquifers under the Sahara, a reminder that the Sahara was not always so dry and the reason that North Africa was the granary of the Roman empire. It is also why life can still exist there – principally in oasis towns like Gaddames – and how there are lakes in the middle of the sand sea.

This will cease soon unless one of Gaddafi’s more lunatic projects is halted. He conceived a plan of Pharonic scale to take water from these aquifers under the desert in order to water the agriculture of the coastal strip. This was by building pipelines big enough to drive a car down. For obvious reasons, this water is a finite resource; enough for the needs of nomads and their goats and donkeys but not to provide millions of cubic meters of water to spread over wheat-fields. If this resource is plundered at the current rate, cities like Gaddames will sink into the desert and an already marginal way of life disappear.

Libya has plenty of oil. Desalination is perfectly possible and sensible. But wheat-fields in North Africa? By any standards other than those of the unlamented, delusional colonel it is mad. But that probably won’t stop it. Corruption and stupidity are not, unfortunately, restricted to one man.


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