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Monday, July 25, 2011

Great Man-Made River, Being Undone by Men?

July 25, 2011

I don't write so much here on the nature of the fighting in the Libyan Civil War, geeking out instead on the underlying moral justifications and the reality of the rebellion in February (and before), and only highlights of later, broader developments. But this shocking new turn is one those, and warrants special mention.

It's been seriously alleged, though details are still coming out (see below), that NATO's warplanes have started targeting Libya's civilian water system, the epic "Great Man-Made River." At right, the horse-shaped system as shown on the Libyan 20 dinar bill, from Wikipedia's entry on the "GMR". This government project provides most of Libya's people and crops with fresh water piped in from a vast aquifer beneath the southern deserts.

The portion reportedly attacked is that ending at the government-held but rebel-coveted city of Brega - approximately the horse's behind in the network above, just past the furthest reach rebel country in the east, or the horse's tail. Brega is also a major oil terminal and host to repeated NATO assaults in recent weeks, including an unprecedented July 6 taking out of fuel supplies used by the government of Libya. It's also hosted repeated rebel assaults and claims to have taken it. It's past the reasonable dividing line between east and west Libya.

Now, it's alleged, NATO's trying to turn off the water to this town. Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, as quoted in an AP report carried by USA Today:
"Most Libyans drink from the Great Manmade River, most Libyan land is farmed from the water, so any harm against this vital project is a harm aginst all Libyans. We believe this a very dangerous development in NATO'S attacks."
I'm not sure what he said in his full remarks (will report back if interesting), but this doesn't specify the  physical system was being targeted. My first tip-off to that effect was via the interesting Libya S.O.S.  blogspot site, and picked up by many, including by Uruknet.com. "RAPE of LIBYA : GREAT MAN MADE RIVER reason for NATO attack."
July 22 2011. A date for humanity to remember. NATO hit the Libyan water supply pipeline. It will take months to repair. Then on Saturday they hit the pipeline factory producing pipes to repair it.

Sine [sic] when is the water supply pipeline itself a legitimate target?
I don't know ... like with the oil facilities hit, again in Brega - it could be that "Gaddafi's forces" were using it to hydrate themselves during their attacks on "civilians." Who apparently don't require water?

Was it only the Brega part hit? If so, NATO isn't trying to deprive all Libya of water to pressure them against Gaddafi. That would only say all loyalists in Brega should move out and leave the plum of a prize to rot in Benghazi's orbit.  This is a rebel town now, they'd be saying, and only our contractors (French water privatizers no doubt) will be allowed to build and run the replacement system. "Illegitimate" governments don't get to do that.

Those are some first thoughts I had, anyway. On first blush, it's simply alarming. But I needed to learn more, of course.

What (it seems) Happened
The widest-run article was by AP (it's what USA Today used, and also Canadian Business.com. While relating this war crime alleged against NATO, the article focuses on rebel demands that Gaddafi leave Libya and stand trial for his own alleged war crimes. If I felt the slightest confident the trial would be fair, by the way, I'd be urging him to go and get his name cleared of the charges.

The rumors these were based on have brought on the third and fourth foci of the AP report, yet another bombardment of Tripoli to pressure the people into revolt, and an attack in Tripoli on some high officials by pressured people, which the government denies happened ("cooking gas," says Ibrahim, an "accident.")

On the GMR attack, besides quoting Mr. Ibrahim, this report says only:
NATO planes struck a factory near the embattled oil city of Brega on Friday [July 22] killing six guards, Libyan officials said.

The plant, located six miles (10 kilometers) south of the strategic oil installation, builds the huge pipes that carry water from underground aquifers deep in the south to the coast as part of the Great Man Made River irrigation project.

"Major parts of the plant have been damaged," said Abdel-Hakim el-Shwehdy, head of the company running the project. "There could be major setback for the future projects."

At least 70 percent of Libyans survive on the water carried through the pipes to the coast in the project, according to government figures.
As for the earlier attack that had required these replacements: I can't find anything yet aside from the implication by Libya S.O.S. that the pipeline factory was hit Saturday (the 23rd), following a strike on the "water supply pipeline" itself on Friday.

Until I learn better, I'm considering this one-two punch interpretation a mistake. And that would narrow the possible crime to weakening the government's ability to repair the pipeline, should it be attacked, by rebel/al Qaeda elements or NATO, in the future. And of course, they'll insist the factory was making or doing something else besides pipe work, something horrible they can't explain, related to "attacking civilians."

video: Libya / Brega: NATO bombed "Great Man Made River"factory, war crimes

It looks like the expansive grounds of a factory, not a section of pipeline spewing water. A sign above the door says, in English:
"We try to continuously
Safety First , Quality Best
Save Cost , Delivery Just"
Another large building in the complex is demolished - its frame is mostly intact, but its walls and contents are blown out across the grounds. Then the factory's purpose is shown, a huge lot of 10-foot pipe sections, row after row, hundreds at least, filmed I think after the attack, and still available. It's only if they need more than this - and in a time of war, it's possible - that their downturn in production will matter much.

So as I see it, this facility is, technically, a part of the pipeline system - its management and maintenance parts. But it's not a part that starts bleeding life-water when blown up.

For the six guards killed, if true, and for their families, the matter is more immediate.

Further Reactions, Perhaps Beyond the Mark
NATO Bombs Libyan Water Pipe:Humanitarian Disaster
NATO jets destroyed key water infrastructure near the Libyan city of Brega on Friday. The plant is located six miles outside of the city of Brega, and was specifically targeted. Six plant workers were killed during the attack.

The plant is part of the Great Man Made River Project
It is an unfortunate strategy designed to create human suffering. NATO is desperate to spark unrest against the Gaddafi regime by any means.

The irony is that this war began under the auspices of helping the Libyan people. Now they are made to suffer as part of a NATO strategy. The policy reinforces the reality that the Libyan war has as little to do with humanitarianism as the Iraq war had to do with weapons of mass destruction.
Mathaba, a Libyan-centric but independent media outfit ran a piece that added Muammar Gaddafi's own personal reaction to the new strike(s):
Mathaba has learnt that the Leader of the Revolution sent a message on Friday to members of the UN Security Council who are not taking part in the aggression against Libya, notably Russia and China, regarding the NATO European terrorists targeting of the pipe factory of the great man made river in the city of Brega, where pipes are manufactured to compensate for damaged pipes of the river, the only source of drinking waters and irrigation for the people of Libya.
(bolding mine - actual damaged sections or hypothetical ones?)

Russia's pre-eminent Pravda.ru website pulled no punches here:
A NATO terrorist attack has hit a water pipes factory in al-Brega, murdering six guards, this being the factory which makes pipes for the great man-made irrigation system across the desert which brings water to seventy per cent of Libyan homes, according to sources in Libya. The factory was hit after the water supply network was destroyed on Friday.
The source is the same Libya SOS report, so it's not a support. But Pravda added:
NATO has committed another war crime, targeting a civilian water supply network which brings water to 70% of Libya's population, according to Pravda.Ru sources in Libya. The general manager of the Man Made River Corporation which controls the pipeline reports it was hit in a NATO strike on Friday. In another clear violation of the law, a consignment from Italy of 19 000 AK-47's was caught in Ajdabiyah by the Libyan authorities, according to Libyan military sources.
If NATO's contribution to protecting civilians is bombing their water supply then the international community will respond to this heinous war crime, whether or not the politicians do. Will anyone please do something about this horrendous war crime? Or will we all sit back while NATO destroys water supply lines, a civilian structure? Is this protecting civilians or is this an act of revenge because NATO is losing?


  1. Fracking for shale oil gas is putting our water supplies at risk across America and Australia.
    Insanity prevails.

  2. Off-topic, but thanks for a comment. Shale oil sounds pretty good, maybe, but who could be surprised it would have some pretty fracking serious side-effects on fresh water supplies?

    Aquifers are underrated - my area has a good one we're starting to appreciate, Libya's got a better one yet Vivendi's probably been eyeing for a long while before France tried to score them the contract with this war...

  3. On topic (but an aside from your excellent analysis of the propaganda and faked images filling our screens for the past 6 months), it was finally acknowledged publicly on UK state broadcasting (propaganda) a few days ago (PM Programme) that the Americans built the GMRP at a time when anyone who conducted trade with Libya there was in big trouble. Except it was done using an arms length subsidiary, with lots of Phillipino and other nationalities' engineers .
    The company Al Nahr Engineering Ltd of Benghazi, wants to lose the word Great (not because the project is now small, but because the Jamahiriya of Gaddhafi was Great - العظمى). Founded in 1994 as Brown & Root North Africa Ltd, it operated through the
    The Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, though UN Sanctions resolutions (eg no. 883) for non-US companies did not extend to such a project. GMRP info here

    Very interesting was the meeting held on 29 October 2010, Desert and Short - the Libyan water industry explained. From the list of participants, it was as if they knew in advance that something might happen in the near future....
    By 2025, the GMRP is projected to supply 75percent of the fast growing Libyan population.

  4. Felix, that's awesome stuff, thanks! So Dick Cheney helped build this? I'll have a look at the links. The one meeting, late October - it might not matter, but that I believe is when the plan to do this war was firmly agreed on in the West. The French had Nouri, the Americans had the oil company pull-outs, and so on. Only the simultaneous appearance of the "Arab Spring" in the countries on either side stretches the whole idea past where one would expect for a post-modern coup d'etat.

  5. There was an interesting blogpost by Nafeez Ahmed on 16 February 2011 concerning the importance of water in this region in view of declining oil reserves and increasing population (not to mention climate change).

    "“If the water goes away, then suddenly the whole deal that holds the government together goes away”, warns John Alterman, the CSIS Middle East director. He adds that this could undermine state legitimacy, radicalise ‘identity politics’ and lead to civil disorder and even state-failure. “It is a fundamental problem", he says, "for these governments and the people who live under them.”

    Original article Europe's World, Spring 2011

  6. A Manchester firm at Radcliffe had also been doing good business through a subsidiary (Boving Engineering Libya Ltd) on the GMMRP - Boving Engineering UK Ltd Also work done for Mellitah Oil and Gas in Libya.

  7. From the list of participants, it was as if they knew in advance that something might happen in the near future.... Steel

  8. July 22 2011. A date for humanity to remember. NATO hit the Libyan water supply pipeline. It will take months to repair. Then on Saturday they hit the pipeline factory producing pipes to repair it,pipeline


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