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Libya's Qaddafi taps 'fossil water' to irrigate desert farms

While many countries in the Middle East and North Africa bicker over water rights, Libya has tapped into an aquifer of 'fossil water' to change its topography – turning sand into soil. The 26-year, $20 billion project is nearly finished.

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Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi addresses the media during the official closing ceremony of the Sixth African Union Summit in this 2006 file photo. Libya has tapped into an aquifer of 'fossil water' to change its topography – turning sand into soil.

Antony Njuguna/Reuters/File

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In the middle of the Libyan Desert’s scorched yellow sands, rows of green grapes dangle off vines; almond trees blossom in neat lines, and pear tree orchards stretch into the distance.

Libya is one of the driest countries on Earth, bereft of rivers, lakes, and rain. But here the desert is blooming.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the quest to turn thousands of miles of desert into arable land has taken a backseat to containing an impending water shortage. While many countries in the region bicker over water rights, Libya has taken it upon itself to change its topography – turning sand into soil.

IN PICTURES: Following Qaddafi's fashion

The Great Man-Made River, which is leader Muammar Qaddafi's ambitious answer to the country’s water problems, irrigates Libya’s large desert farms. The 2,333-mile network of pipes ferry water from four major underground aquifers in southern Libya to the northern population centers. Wells punctuate the water’s path, allowing farmers to utilize the water network in their fields.

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