By Seraj Essul and Elabed Elraqubi
Tripoli and Sebha, 3 September 2013:
Western Libya could face water shortages because part of the Man-Made . . .[restrict]River from Sebha has been cut by tribesmen protesting the abduction of Anoud Senussi. She was seized by gunmen as she left a Tripoli prison yesterday on her way to Sebha to rejoin her family.
Salah Abu Khazam chairman of Gira local council told the Libya Herald this evening that Magarha tribesmen had cut the power to some of the pumps on the western branch of the MMR to the north of Sebha. Though he said that he had not visited the site, he believed that the power supply had been stopped yesterday, shortly after news of Anoud’s kidnap.
It is understood that the tribesmen avoided the main pumping station at Jebel al-Hasauna, 210k north of Gira, because it is well protected. Instead they struck at a smaller pumping area at Ashwerif, which is reportedly guarded by Magarha tribe members.
The tribesmen restarted the flow a few hours later but have given the government 72 hours in which to find and recover Senussi’s daughter from her kidnappers. Otherwise, they say they will cut the flow permanently. This evening it was understood that Water Resources Minister Alhadi Suleiman Hinshir had flown into Sebha for talks with tribal elders. He told this newspaper that he could only say that negotiations were under way. He added that Prime Minister Ali Zeidan would be making a full statement tomorrow, Wednesday.
The $25-billion MMR brings water from aquifers deep in the desert to the north of the country. The system was designed to have reservoirs storing up to 60 million cubic metres of water. It is unclear just how much water is currently stored in western Libya in these open reservoirs, which critics have long said lose 20 percent of their contents through evaporation.
The temporary stoppage of the MMR was not the only action taken today by angry Magarha tribesmen. The north-south A7 highway was blocked from early this morning until around 1:00pm. The road was reopened after the head of Ashweref local council, Mohammed Salem, led a negotiating team to the protestors.
It is also reported that a flight from Tunisia to Sebha was this afternoon diverted to Tripoli, because of concerns over the security at the airport, which some protestors have said will be closed if Anoud is not released unharmed.
The seriousness of a stop to western Libya’s water supply from the MMR, appeared to be underlined by the news that elders from Zintan may have joined elders from Sebha to take part in the negotiations.