Reports reveal pollution, profit-making from water trucks

The relatively high cost of water is unjustifiable considering the poor quality of water being delivered and the equivalent economic burden.
by TK Maloy

1 November 2017 | 15:51

Source: by Annahar

  • by TK Maloy
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 1 November 2017 | 15:51

The Nahr Al Klab or Dog River shown here in winter is empty by summer, when water delivery skyrockets (Annahar/TK Maloy)

BEIRUT: In a series of studies released Tuesday, school researchers reported on the “sea of profits" that were made "as water tankers deliver contaminated water to Beirut residents,” according to an AUB statement.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from AUB, conducted several studies over a period of four ears from 2011 to 2016 on groundwater quality in the Beirut area and beyond, in order to establish quality of water and sustainability of sources.

The team was led by Professor Mutasem El-Fadel from the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) with several faculty members from across the university contributing to various parts of this program including Professor Rami Zurayk and Associate Professor Jad Chaaban at the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences, Associate Professor May Massoud at the Faculty of Health Sciences

Other team members included: Assistant Professors Ibrahim Alameddine and Majdi Abou Najm at MSFEA, and Assistant Professor Joanna Doummar at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In addition, more than a dozen graduate students worked on the Program implementation.

The initial research program on climate change and seawater intrusion along the Eastern Mediterranean was funded by the International Development Research Center (IDRC) of Canada at the American University of Beirut.

Some of the team’s efforts under this program targeted the effects of unregulated pumping from coastal wells in making our fresh groundwater reserves undrinkable due to contamination associated with overexploitation and the role of the water tankers commercial market in filling the gap of chronic water shortages with its implications on water quality and economic burden on the community.

The results indicate unprecedented groundwater salinity levels in many areas of Beirut and beyond forcing building owners to rely on treatment units (known as reverse osmosis RO desalination) or on water tankers when such units are not affordable or feasible.

While water tankers have become an integral part of the water supply system, the sector is completely unregulated and operates with no governmental supervision and consumers are invariably unaware of the origin or the quality of purchased water.

In fact, much of the distributed water is contaminated with levels of salinity and microbial loads exceeding water quality standards. the findings note. Delivered water costs varied with a markup of nearly eight to 24 folds of the public water supply and an equivalent economic burden of 16 percent of the average household income (one of the highest in the world) excluding externalities associated with poor water quality of tankers in the form of cost of potential illness, damage to household appliances, and/or the purchase of bottled water that is invariably used for drinking purposes.

Prof. El-Fadel expressed that Beirut residents are paying one of the highest bills for water in the world. Many people receive four bills for their water: one from the government, for water which they do not receive; another for water delivered by tankers (trucks) often with poor quality; then they purchase bottled water for drinking, often from unlicensed companies; and finally, they pay to treat well water that is pumped into their building.

He added: "In Lebanon we have adequate domestic water quantities but the sector needs to be better managed and regulated at both the community and governmental levels."

A further statement from AUB noted, private service providers are resorting to obtain water from unprotected sources and set prices entirely at their discretion, considering factors of supply and demand. Hence, while small-scale water providers can fill a gap in the supply system and contribute towards meeting basic water needs, it is critical to regulate their services to ensure compliance with water quality standards and tariffs.

According to the studies, "The relatively high cost is unjustifiable considering the poor quality of water being delivered and the equivalent economic burden as a function of the average household income. While wells are the main source of water contamination, tankers proved to be an equally important source, mainly due to the sub-standard tanker material and/or operators’ hygienic practices."

"Moreover, unregulated pumping was found to be a strong promoter of saltwater intrusion, with most wells exhibiting evidence of salinization. The high costs, the promotion of saltwater intrusion, and the impaired water quality of tankers are a direct result of the lack of regulations and monitoring or the lax in the enforcement of existing ones," the AUB statement added. 

With the continuously growing water shortage and in the absence of adequate public water distribution capacity, it becomes imperative to recognize and regulate the water vending sector as well as formalize and control its market to ensure the provision of safe and affordable water services through a monitoring program that continuously assesses the performance of the sector in the context of consumer complaints and protection, researchers concluded.

In related news, a number of initiatives have been going forward to improved water supply and infrastructure, such as several World Bank projects which include the hydro-tunnel under construction that will channel water from the Awali River to the Wardanieh water treatment plant for the Greater Beirut Water Supply Project in Lebanon.

Joseph Nseir, Director-General of the Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Establishment , which manages the water supply for half of Lebanon’s population, checks on the quantities of snow, water, and rainfall daily.

Concerns increase across the board, when levels of rainfall and snow decline, as they did during the summer of 2015.

Nseir has said that the only way to secure the water supply of Lebanon – particularly during the intensive wet months – is to expand the storage of water and to improve the management of it -- he said in remarks the Bank..

For years municipalities and the central Lebanese government have been at best laissez–faire on this score, letting a vast amount of water become lost to local usage as it runs-off into the Mediterranean.

Other water projects funded by the following respective countries include: the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the European Investment Bank (EIB), France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United States and the World Bank.

Projects range from water preservation in dams and tanks, while other projects look at water treatment plants to create sanitary water, and yet more look at infrastructural issues.

The longest of these aid plans came on board shortly after Lebanon’s lengthy Civil War, when not only in response water infrastructure damage, but road transportation, telecoms,and a variety of basic government services, that have never quite reestablished themselves in full working order.

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