Man-Made River has remained out of politics and acted as a unifier: MMR chairman
By Sami Zaptia.
London, 23 September 2020:
- LBBC webinar with Man-Made River Authority chairman Abdulnaser Bubteina
- MMR has remained a unifier during Libya’s political polarization
- It has continued to supply water to all Libya
- Main causes of water cuts have been power cuts and lack of security
- Vandalism has damaged about 20 percent of MMR wells
- Tripoli Central Bank of Libya has been slow to provide money
- MMR plans its own power supplies
- MMR looking into solar power
- MMR will not create its own security force a la NOC’s PFG
- Expects state to provide security
- Desalination projects will be needed by Libya
- Listed sectors British companies can tender/offer for contracts
The Man-Made River Authority (MMRA) has managed to remain out of Libya’s politics since the 2011 February revolution and has in fact acted as a unifier rather than a polarizer, Abdulnaser Bubteina, chairman of the MMRA said during a members-only Libyan British Business Council (LBBC) webinar today.
Keeping out of Libya’s political tug-of-war
Bubteina said the MMRA has been able to continue to supply water to all of Libya, external factors permitting, irrespective of the country’s political tug-of-wars since 2011.
Water cuts caused by external factors: power cuts, lack of security, finance
He put the overwhelming causes of water cuts across the country to external factors, headed by power cuts and insecurity. He noted that the eastern branch of the water system has been relatively calm with MMR employees able to travel up and down the system without any problems. Foreign company representatives have also been able to operate in the eastern section safely, he added.
Sadly, it has been the western and southern sections of the MMR project that has been and is suffering the most disruption. The power cuts have been chronic. Last week alone there were three total power blackouts which stopped water supplies.
Vandalism of wells
As has been reported by Libya Herald, the MMRP has reported frequent acts of vandalism and armed vandalism with attacks on its staff in the western region. About 20 percent of MMR wells have been vandalised since 2011 in western Libya.
In August this year, the MMR had reported that a total of 149 wells had been attacked despite its continuing demands to the concerned state authorities to provide security for the Authority’s assets. In June this year, it had reported 130 wells had been attacked. It said there has been no response from the state so far. In June it had made a similar call for the provision of security.
The Authority had pointed out that the continuation of these attacks will hinder efforts to continue operations and hinder the flow of water to the consumption areas. It had pointed out that the issue of the continued attacks on its assets is a danger to national water security, and an urgent national strategic necessity that cannot tolerate any delay or postponement.
MMR demands authorities provide security
The MMR Authority has been asking for armed protection of its assets for years. In 2013 the then newly established Ministry of Water Resources said it would tackle the problem of illegal tapping of the MMR and attacks on its assets with the creation of a brigade of 1,500 armed soldiers to police vulnerable sections of the MMR pipeline. However, in practice 4,000 km of pipelines and assets are not easy to guard in mostly isolated desert areas.
Nevertheless, in a reply to a question by Libya Herald today, Bubteina was adamant he was not interested in creating an independent security force to protect MMR assets. He insisted his organization was a technical engineering entity and that he would not be interested in going along the lines of the National Oil Corporation in creating an MMR equivalent of its Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG).
However, he welcomed practical proposals to improve MMR asset security using better and new technology.
Lack of finance by Tripoli CBL
Bubteina complained that for a long time the Tripoli Central Bank of Libya had failed to provide the necessary finance needed to keep the MMR system running. However, he said his entity was solvent and has some cash in the kitty for some projects – projects that offer an opportunity for British companies.
Using solar power
On 17 August the USAID, UNSMIL, UNDP and the World Bank had announced that they were to launch a solar power project for the MMR project which would also provide power for Libya’s south.
Surprisingly, Bubteina said he had not been consulted by the international parties on the project, nor the exact needs of the MMR. Nevertheless, he said the MMR is conducting its own feasibility study into solar power needs and use.
He pointed out that solar had its own problems, with solar panels very much liable to being stolen.
MMR’s own power generation
Asked by Libya Herald if the MMR had plans to establish its own independent power supply, Bubteina said not entirely. He said the MMR needed to have ‘‘standby’’ power generation for when the national grid goes offline, but not to totally replace the General Electricity Company of Libya’s (GECOL) supplies.
He said the MMR aims to be able to generate about 10-15 MW on its own to keep the system flowing – out of the total of 50 MW it needs to fully operate.
He pointed out that there was a separate old power plant in the Sarir field.
Bubteina stressed that the MMR would not be able to supply all of Libya’s water needs and that Libya will need to invest in alternative sources of water such as desalination, even though it is much more expensive. He put the cost of the MMR water at US$ 0.28 per litre whereas he costed desalination water at US$ 2.00 / litre.
Business opportunities for British companies
Bubteina was able to offer a long list of areas where British companies would be able to offer / tender for contracts across a variety of specialities. He encouraged British companies to be more ‘‘aggressive’’ in seeking MMR business.