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«Managing Blue Gold New Perspectives on Water Security in the Levantine Middle East Mari Luomi (editor) Managing Blue Gold New Perspectives on Water ...»

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Syria During dry seasons, the Damascus area experiences disruptions to its water supply. During the driest periods, many people are forced to rely on the polluted groundwater. Some measures have already been taken to improve the situation. Previously, network losses had posed a major problem: between Ain al-Fijeh and Damascus, 20% of the water disappeared. The quality of the water also deteriorated as it ran through the old pipelines. As a result of a rehabilitation of the tunnels, the loss subsequently decreased to less than 5%. The Ain al-Fijeh spring drainage basin area has been protected since 1989 and building in the area has been restricted. 185 Old risk factors, such as oil tanks and stores of chemicals, have been eliminated and the water quality is good.

A study of water management in Syria concluded that ‘the treatment of wastewater is currently one of the main priorities of the state for ensuring environmental protection’.186 So far, water purification efforts have failed either because of the lack of comprehensive planning or poor enforcement of legislation, as in the case of Adra, as explained above.

184 Kamar, Lebanon Water Sector Overview, pp. 10-12.

185 Anonymous environmental engineer, Ain al-Fijeh, 16 May 2010.

186 INECO, Institutional framework, p. 11.

78 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 At present, many suburbs and rural areas are forced to rely on polluted groundwater. Wastewaters from landfills that dot the roadsides are also a pollution risk. A comprehensive land use plan for the region of Damascus that takes into consideration environmental factors has been proposed in a project funded by the German development cooperation agency, GTZ, and the Syrian government.187 The implementation of the integrated water resources management concept (IWRM), an approach for ensuring the optimal management of water resources, could be used for defining a new water policy. Interaction between key stakeholders and planners was implemented by INECO, a regional EU-supported coordination project, in the Barada River Basin in 2007-2009.188 The interaction helped in ‘identifying potential deficiencies of measures taken and developing supporting options to deal with the pollution problem’.

The enhancement of public involvement, however, encounters problems due to differing levels of awareness among diverse social groups. Awareness campaigns are also needed to garner support from the local people.189 Lebanon As in Syria, the optimal use of water resources has been hindered by a lack of comprehensive planning and implementation. Because the demand is locally outstripping the water supply and due to the non-existent wastewater purification, Lebanon has drafted a 10year national strategy to meet these problems. 190 The main aim is to store winter water by building dams and artificial lakes. Drinking and irrigation water as well as wastewater and water quality problems have also been taken into account.

The plan to build up to 28 dams for storing fresh water has been largely criticized because water does not stay in reservoirs in karstic areas, recreational and ecological sites get destroyed, and because 187 Balanche and Faour, Water Management Programme, p. 63.

188 INECO Institutional framework, p. 51.


Maher Salman and Carlos Garces, Symposium Proceedings on: “Irrigation Modernization:

Constraints and Solutions”, Damascus, Syria 28-31 March 2006 (Rome: International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID), FAO, 2006), p. 15.

190 Makdisi, ‘Towards a Human Rights Approach’, p. 374.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 79 the government has not considered other possibilities.191 In 2010, local NGOs were working towards an alternative plan. According to officials, the Ministry of Agriculture will undertake environmental impact assessments (EIA) when the dams are planned in more detail.192 Agriculture in Lebanon suffers from the risk of flash floods in the north and drought in the upper Beka valley. 193 As a countermeasure, the government has started flood risk management, and a national risk assessment was ongoing in 2010.

In addition to the lack of wastewater purification, there are also very few maps of existing wastewater networks.194 Wastewater plants have been built without the associated sewer systems and, for example, all of Beirut’s wastewaters are dumped into the sea.

A master plan for wastewater treatment has been prepared by the Ministry of Energy and Water. So far, Lebanon has not shown any interest in the reuse of wastewater in irrigation because of the availability of traditional water resources.

When it comes to climate change, Lebanon’s government is working in close cooperation with local NGOs and, according to some estimates, public awareness is good, due to the many awareness campaigns.195 In the case of water, however, more campaigns are still needed, according to state officials.

In the case of both Syria and Lebanon, the challenges posed by water shortages and climate change should be taken into account in agricultural and community planning. It is necessary to adopt policies aimed at eliminating water resource overexploitation, improving the efficiency of water use and the utilization of sewage water in agriculture. Emphasis should be placed on ‘water productivity 191 IRIN News, ‘Reduced rain window threatens water crunch’ (13 August 2009), http://www.

irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=85698. Accessed on 13 August 2009.

192 Anonymous environmental expert at the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, Beirut, May 2010.

193 IRIN news, ‘Reduced rain window’.

194 Kamar, Lebanon Water Sector Overview, p. 12.

195 Anonymous environmental expert at the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, Beirut, May 2010.

80 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 as opposed to land or crop productivity’. 196 In Syria’s agricultural strategy this point of view has already been taken into account.

Enforcement of water-related legislation and management plans is inadequate The administration should be streamlined so that there is no overlapping or shortcoming in jurisdiction. The decisions should be backed up by good arguments and be understandable to the general public.

Syria The complexity of the Syrian administrative system applies not only to water monitoring, but also to governance.197 The Ministries of Health, Housing and Construction, and Local Administration and Environment are responsible for drinking water and the Ministry of Irrigation for irrigation, while the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform is in charge of the application of modern agricultural techniques.

Despite the fact that Syria’s water resources are limited, the government has gone to great lengths to expand irrigation, according to many authors because the ruling Ba’th party relies largely on the support of agrarian people. 198 It is argued that the prevailing irrigation policy should be changed as suggested in a symposium on irrigation modernization in 2006, which concluded that there is a need for ‘a clear and concerted strategy for irrigation modernization supported through appropriate policy and legal considerations’.199 The introduction of cost recovery policies, the regulation of agricultural water use and crop production patterns should be key elements in the agricultural policy, as pointed out in a report by INECO. 200 196 Meslmani and Wardeh, Strategy and Action Plan for Adaptation; Salman and Garces: Irrigation Modernization.

197 Ibid., INECO, Institutional framework, p. 68.

198 Barnes, ‘Managing the Waters’, pp. 510-530.

199 Salman and Garces, Irrigation Modernization, p. 14.

200 INECO, Institutional framework, p. 68.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 81 Another important proposal put forward by both the 2006 symposium and INECO has been to consider appropriate addenda to the water law ‘to overcome its shortfalls, in particular those related to its high degree of centralization and its lack of clear mechanisms of enforcement’.201 One example of centralization can be found in the area of reuse of wastewater in irrigation: a plantation located about 1.8 km to the south of Qara city uses 90% of the wastewaters originating from the city, which are purified by natural lagooning.

The project is privately funded and, according to local stakeholders, due to changes in the law, it is likely to be the first and last private project to date. However, similar projects run by the state could materialize.202 An example of the difficulties in enforcement is the drainage basin area of Ain al-Fijeh spring. The Damascus Water Supply and Sewerage Authority has complained to the government about illegal building in the protected area to the government, but according to stakeholders, no measures have been taken. Agriculture and small-scale industry are both important employers in the country not least due to its rapid population growth, which makes it difficult to enforce environmental regulations in both public and private sectors.

Lebanon Despite Lebanon’s sound environmental law framework, poor governance of the water sector leads to problems in maintenance and, consequently, unsatisfactory performance.

Since the early 1970s, the government of Lebanon has sought to restructure the water sector’s administration and institutions.

An administrative reform was introduced via laws in 2000. A reorganization process between municipalities and Regional Water Establishments (RWE) is currently ongoing. However, only two of the four Regional Water Establishments are operating because of a lack of funding.203 Recently, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in coordination with the Ministry of Energy 201 Salman and Garces, Irrigation Modernization; INECO, Institutional framework.

202 Personal communication with Rashad Kahwaji, ELARD.

203 Anonymous Lebanese politician, Beirut, May 2010.

82 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 and Water, has decided to support the Litani River Authority so that it can operate as a real river basin agency. 204 The Ministry of Environment, responsible for the protection of water resources, was established in 1993 and is therefore still considered a young institution with little authority. In addition, the enforcement of environmental laws is stymied by the fact that the ministry operates without local administrations. Funds for the establishment of regional offices have not been allocated in the state budget so far.205 Major problems in the implementation of reform packages have been caused by the appointment of officials to the new institutions, as each large community in Lebanon wishes to be represented.206 Therefore, it is very hard to make changes in the prevailing organization, which would lead to changes in the balance between social and economic interests in water use.

Lebanon’s water problem is not only a question of sufficiency of supply; water pollution is a major part of the problem. A plan has been made by the government for wastewater purification, but it lacks funding.207 Ways in which the private sector can participate in the financing and operation of the water supply and wastewater treatment should be considered. So far, the private sector has not taken any role in investments.208 Recently, however, the government has enacted legislation to initiate privatization in the sector. 209 204 Euro-Mediterranean Information System on know-how in the Water sector, ‘Lebanese Ministry of Energy and Water and US Government signed $27.5 million memoranda of understanding for assistance to water sector’ (26 August 2010), http://www.emwis.org. Accessed on 1 September 2010.

205 Mohammed Rahal, Lebanese Minister of Environment, Beirut, May 2010.

206 Kamar, Lebanon Water Sector Overview. Emmanuelle Kunigk, ‘Policy Transformation and Implementation in the Water Sector in Lebanon: The Role of Politics’, Occasional Paper No 27. Water Issues Study Group. (University of London, SOAS, 1999); Makdisi, ‘Towards a Human Rights Approach’, p. 382.

207 Anonymous environmental expert at the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, Beirut, May 2010.

208 Kunigk, ‘Policy Transformation and Implementation’, p. 19.

209 Makdisi, ‘Towards a Human Rights Approach’, p. 383.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 83Conclusions

In both Syria and Lebanon, groundwater and surface water supplies have diminished, mainly because of increased exploitation due to expanding irrigation, population growth and increasing standards of living and because of diminishing precipitation and increasing temperatures due to climate change. Syria has already been hit by water shortages, which are also expected to occur in Lebanon in the future.

In both countries, meteorological, hydrological and water quality monitoring are insufficient. Modern evaluation methods require not only data, but more research into the domestic hydrological features.

The reason for this insufficiency in both countries seems to be the lack of resources in the environmental administration. In addition, the lack of funding affects the water infrastructure.

Wastewater treatment in both Syria and Lebanon is undeveloped, which leads to a deterioration in the quality of water. In Lebanon, a plan for wastewater treatment has been drawn up by the Ministry of Energy and Water during the last strategy period of the Ministry.

Similar planning should be undertaken in Syria, too. Wastewater purification needs to be planned in its totality, taking into account the wastewater producers, the sewer network and the treatment facilities, as well as the recipients. To meet the water demand, the use of wastewater in irrigation should be increased, at least in Syria.

The rapid population growth is leading to an increase in water demand in densely populated areas. Lebanon has also witnessed migration from restless areas to the suburbs of Beirut. Part of the ongoing construction in these suburbs is illegal and difficult to control. In the case of the Damascus area, a comprehensive land use plan that takes into consideration environmental factors has been elaborated. This kind of planning could be effectively put to use in other rapidly growing areas in Syria. The participation of NGOs in planning should be developed in Syria, where the centralized administration is not used to engaging in dialogue with stakeholders and local people.

The implementation of the integrated water resources management concept (IWRM), an approach for ensuring the optimal management of water resources, could help in defining a new water policy that also contains climate change preparedness, mitigation and adaptation.

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