The Libyan government says the 26-year project has cost $19.58 billion. Nearing completion, the Great Man-Made River is the largest irrigation project in the world and the government says it intends to use it to develop 160,000 hectares (395,000 acres) of farmland. It is also the cheapest available option to irrigate fields in the water-scarce country, which has an average annual rainfall of about one inch.
“Rainfall is just concentrated in 5 percent of the [country’s] area, so more or less, 95 percent or 90 percent of our land is desert,” says Abdul Magid al-Kaot, minister of agriculture, during a PowerPoint presentation that accompanied a recent several-hour government tour of the project and farms outside the capital of Tripoli. “Water is more precious for us than oil. ... Water here in Libya, it’s life.”
Just as Libya mines the desert for crude; they are doing the same for ‘fossil water’ – ice age water preserved in the porous holes of the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer.
The massive aquifer stretches under Libya, Egypt, Chad, and Sudan. It includes four freshwater basins inside Libya that contain approximately 10,000 to 12,000 cubic kilometers (480 cubic miles) of ancient water buried as deep as 600 meters (2,000 feet) below the surface of the desert, reporters were told during the government presentation.