BEIRUT: With Lebanon’s streets flooding, the excess of water causing damages to roads along with the economic losses it carries, there seems to be no shortage of water. Nevertheless, based on overall year-round shortages, households still rely on water brought by tankers for domestic use and commonly purchase plastic water bottles.
This begs the questions - what is the real problem and how can it be addressed?
Lebanon is naturally rich in water resources including surface water, groundwater, and springs. An exact assessment of resources availability is limited because a lack of official data. However, while Lebanon is considered abundant in water resources in comparison with neighboring arid countries in the Arab region, there is a remarkable lack of readily available water supply.
According to a report released by the World Bank, more than 20 percent of the Lebanese people are not connected to the public water network and only a quarter of those who are connected receive water daily. Moreover, tap water is often not safe to drink and needs to be re-filtered.
The shortage in water supply is mainly due to the fragmentation of the water sector system in Lebanon and to the lack of proper management of resources.
In 2000, law 221 reformed the water sector and made it under the jurisdiction of four main water authorities supervised by the Ministry of Energy and Water. This restructuring was an attempt to reduce and ultimately solve water management issues. However 19 years later and water problems still persist and have increased.
The law lacks clear regulations allowing for the private sector participation in the water supply management. Local authorities are not really in power and lack the financial as well as the technical capacity to implement the policy. These authorities have a surplus of administrative staff and a deficiency in technical staff.
Furthermore, the restructuring was only focused on direct instruments such as laws and regulations and did not include other social or economic instruments, for instance, the water fees system doesn’t offer incentives for the improvement of irrigation efficiency or the demand management given that flat tariffs are imposed regardless of the consumption.
According to Fanack Water, Lebanon’s main water supply is sourced from groundwater. However, the extraction rate (700 MCM/yr) exceeds the recharge rates of aquifers (500 MCM/yr). The World Bank highlighted that the issuing of licenses for underwater extraction hasn’t been enforced and 80 percent of the wells are illegal.
No efforts have been made to raise public awareness of the importance of water conservation and maintenance and its necessary role in societies and economics. In addition to that, political instabilities in the country and the region disabled the development of the water sector.
The water availability problem is expected to increase because of climate change as the country will be facing longer drought periods as well as extremely heavy rainfalls and cloudbursts. Moreover, the governing bodies haven’t dealt and are not addressing emerging issues impacting water availability such as the increase of population, the inflow of refugees, the depletion of resources as well as climate change.
To address the problem, the approach to water management in Lebanon should be revisited and more comprehensively reformed. It should be a process between the implementing authorities and targeted groups rather than just a matter of a hierarchical approach, especially that the government has lost the citizens trust and need to re-establish a better relationship to allow for improvement. Sewage management should be improved to protect surface and groundwater from pollution.
Among other physical measures, a marked increase in water collectors and storage basins should be built to collect rainwater, treat it and redistribute it. This would work to limit damages due to inundations and ensure water availability in times of droughts. Lastly, an increase of green areas and permeable surfaces to stimulate the recharge of aquifers is needed.
Rim Khamis graduated from the Lebanese American University with a bachelor of Architecture degree and accomplished her masters in Environmental and Energy Management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Her thesis was an emphasis on urban resilience and climate change adaptation in megacities using a comparative approach of Cairo, London, and New York. Rim is currently undergoing her Ph.D. studies in Environmental and Energy Solutions at the University of Pau and Pays de L'Adour in France focusing on climate change adaptation in medium-sized European cities.
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