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Thursday, 24 August, 2000, 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK
Libya's man-made river springs leak
Libyans bath in a dam on the river
Gaddafi called the project the eighth wonder of the world
By Nick Pelham in Tripoli

One of the world's largest construction projects, Libya's great man-made river, is facing difficulties, 10 years after it came on tap.

The project was designed to drill ground water from beneath the Sahara desert and pipe it to Libyan towns, but project directors say the artificial river is now showing worrying signs of leakage.

The Libyan desert
The project raises water from beneath the desert
After spending more than $10bn on the project, work has begun on only two of the five branches and of those, one is running only 20% capacity and the other has begun to leak.

The great man-made river was designed as the show-piece of the Libyan revolution and it was predicted that it would make the desert as green as the Libyan flag.

Corroded pipes

Vast four-metre diameter pipes - running 1,500km from the central Sahara to the Mediterranean coast - were laid to carry the equivalent of twice the flow of the UK's River Thames.

Libyan leader, Colonel Moammar Gaddafi called it the eighth wonder of the world.

But the project's general manager, Hakim Shwehdi, says the pipes on the eastern stretch of the river are so badly corroded that in recent months engineers have been forced to shut down the river three times.

Mr Shwehdi is not clear who is to blame - the Libyan commissioners, the British designers or the South Korean constructors.

Delayed expectations

He said no large engineering projects from the space shuttle to the great manmade river could expect to be trouble-free and so far Libyans have not felt the effects.

Three huge reservoirs, the size of football stadia can hold enough water for weeks but it is a sad tale of delayed expectations.

The Sahara holds some of the world's largest reserves of ground water and hundreds of thousands of cubic kilometres of water will continue to lie under the desert.

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See also:

07 Apr 99 | The Economy
UK exporters eye Libya
19 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Libya
06 Sep 99 | Middle East
Gaddafi invents 'rocket car'
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