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Saharan Water Pipe Project Irrigates Desert

In Libya, people are starting to get their water from one of the most unlikely places on Earth: the Saharan desert. About 30 years ago, scientists looking for oil found water instead - and there is now a multi-billion dollar pipeline to pump it to Libya's coastal cities. But most people in the desert still draw water from wells, waiting for rain, and hoping their oases will not run dry. Phuong Tran brings VOA this report from Timia, Niger.

For years, investors have been trying to make money on minerals and oil found in the Sahara. But some three decades ago, scientists discovered another natural resource running beneath the dry dusty earth - water.

In the early 1980s, Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi decided to pump this unlikely desert resource to Libya. More than 20 years later, a pipe big enough to pass a truck runs beneath the desert, carrying water to Libyan coastal cities.

When people in Tripoli, Benghazi or Sirte turn on their faucets, their water comes from deep under the desert and hundreds of kilometers away. This water is conserved from tens of thousands of years ago when the region had a lot more rain. It seeped deep into the desert and is now being extracted by this ambitious pipe project.

But with the Earth's rising temperature, the desert is now mostly unlivable. Saharan communities live in about two percent of the desert, near oases.

Children in the oasis village of Timia, Niger, at the southern edge of the Sahara desert fill their containers every morning. The mountain village gets enough water to grow fruit year round.

Brothers Aruba and Alison say their grandfather's fruit grove was the first in Timia. They sell oranges and mangoes to tourists for 20 cents each. They also sell dates, raisins, and grapefruits.

Theirs is the only mechanical water well in the village. During the hottest months, the water level goes down, but they say they still manage to water the garden. Even during the country's droughts in the early 1970s and in 2005, the garden and family survived.

The brothers had not heard about the Libyan water pipe project. They hope this does not mean their garden will get less water in the coming years.

Not far from the garden, 18-year-old Selma, a nomad from the ethnic Tuareg group, gets water for her family's animals. She has not heard about the pipe project either. She does not understand how water can travel that far, and how it does not evaporate.

Libyan water scientists say the pipe network and the Saharan water reserve can last for the next 50 years.

But for some, this seems like just a pipe dream.