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Great Man-Made River and Vegetables Souvenir Sheet of 1998

Great Man-Made River and Vegetables Souvenir Sheet

Lack of fresh water was, for a long time, a major constraint on agriculture and other economic development in Libya. While exploring for oil in the southern deserts during the 1950's, drillers discovered aquifers of glacial melt-water deposited as long as 40 000 years ago. Although there is no water supply to renew these aquifers, there is enough water to supply Libya's needs for 60 to 1000 years at 10% of the cost of desalinating equivalent quantities of water. On August 28, 1984 Muammar Gaddafi launched construction of what was to be the world's largest irrigation project starting at wells in the Sarir area. As the project progressed increasing responsibility was shifted from foreign experts to Libyans. The Brega plant for the production of the pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipes was inaugurated in 1986 producing the world's the largest pipes made with pre-stressed steel wire. A second plant was established at Sarir. In 1989 the first water arrived at the Ajdabiya and Grand Omar Muktar reservoirs. Deliveries to the Ghardabiya reservoir began in 1991 to Tripoli in 1996 and to Gharyan in 2007. By that time more than 5000 kilometres of pipeline had been built.

One of the objectives of the project was to make Libya more self-sufficient with respect to food. There were plans to irrigate 130,000 hectares of land. Large farms were to be created to produce grains and smaller farms were to be established to produce vegetable crops such as the ones depicted on the souvenir sheet depicted above issued on September 1, 1998. The vegetables superimposed on the Great Man-Made River include garlic, peas, potatoes, corn, leeks, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, beans, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, squash, cucumbers, onions and cauliflower. Unfortunately, the potential of the project has not been realized.

Progress stalled during the Libyan Civil War with a controversial NATO airstrike damaging the Braga plant. The on-going political instability has resulted in neglect and outright destruction of much of the infrastructure including many of the wells that are the source of the water.


"Great Man-Made River." Wikipedia. 19 Jun. 2020. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 20 Aug. 2020.

Housman, Linda. "How Gaddafi's Great Man-Made River Project became part of Water Wars." Pravda. 14 Apr. 2013. Web.
     20 Aug. 2020.

"Libya." Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue. Sidney, Ohio: Amos Media, 2015.

Watkins, John. "Libya's thirst for 'fossil water'." BBC News. 18 Mar. 2006. Web.
     20 Aug. 2020.

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