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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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Nevertheless, despite all the positive developments, there is always a risk of tensions flaring up between Turkey and Syria or Iraq, since increasing water scarcity in Turkey could lead the government to transfer significant amounts of water out of the Euphrates and/ or the Tigris to the deprived regions.68 This is to say that the more the GAP develops, the greater the risk of tensions between the three neighbours. However, as this case study suggests, the emerging regionalism in the Middle East is an important factor in lowering the risk of interstate conflict, including disputes over water-sharing issues. In the case of Turkey and Syria, neither conflict nor cooperation will depend on the availability of water alone, as these two countries have gone beyond water issues by enhancing cooperation in other areas. In this sense, the water issue has become a secondary one.

68 Abdallah Droubi, Climate Change, Water and the Policy-Making Process in the Levant and North Africa, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut (4 August 2009), p. 12.

–  –  –

3 Conflicts, urbanization and bad governance: explaining Lebanon’s water problems Despite the lack of data in terms of both population and hydrological conditions, water issues in Lebanon have been subject to a fair amount of research in recent years. The analyses have shown that, contrary to the official statistics, there are considerable problems regarding access to clean water, as well as wastewater management in the country. These problems can be explained in part by the hydrological facts, which are not as favourable as commonly perceived. The history of conflict and the rapid urbanization of the capital region add to the stress faced by the water sector, but problems over water governance have also been highlighted as the root cause of the problematic situation. This chapter aims at describing the situation in Lebanon by using the Greater Beirut area as a case example for crystallizing the problématique. Through the case study, the chapter seeks to point out that a synthetic approach, which takes into account the hydrological, historical and structural factors, is the most fruitful one for understanding the Lebanese situation.

Lebanon: the water tower of the Middle East?

Unlike many other countries in the Levant, Lebanon has, at least in terms of rainfall, adequate water resources to fulfil the needs of its citizens. It has an annual average rainfall of some 825 mm, which, in terms of volume, translates into around 8 600 million cubic metres (Mm3).69 Surrounded by countries with less rainfall and more deserted 69 For the purposes of comparison, the average annual rainfall in Syria is 252 mm. Aquastat, ‘Country profiles: Lebanon’, in: Karen Franken (ed.), Irrigation in the Middle East region in figures (FAO Water reports No. 34, 2008), pp. 263–278.

46 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 land areas, it has even been suggested that Lebanon should export its water resources to its less privileged neighbours. 70 However, this abundance of water is not the whole truth, and the question of whether Lebanon has any surplus water to give to its thirsty neighbours is a complex one. Firstly, the natural circumstances in Lebanon mean that not all of the precipitation can be optimally exploited. The temporal and spatial variation in rainfall is significant.71 Half of the rainfall is immediately lost to evapotranspiration, and another 20% flows to neighbouring countries and unexploitable groundwater reservoirs.72 Due to the geographical conditions, water storage is difficult to arrange in most places.73 In addition to these challenges, the history of conflict and poor governance of both the supply and demand of water in Lebanon have led to considerable inefficiency in its use.

All in all, Lebanon is only estimated to have around 2 000 Mm3 of usable renewable water resources, whereas demand in 2010 is expected to be 1 987 Mm3. The exact total use of water is difficult to estimate due to lack of data. Population figures are also based on estimates, and the means for data collection and the monitoring of water resources are almost non-existent. A network of hydrological stations had been installed by the mid-1970s, but was largely destroyed by the civil unrest of 1975-1990, and has been only partially rebuilt since.74 Another problem with estimating water use is the uncontrolled drilling of private wells, which has been ongoing since the 1970s and is set to increase.75 By 2015, total demand is projected to increase to 2 248 Mm3, which would exceed the amount of available 70 E. Bou-zeid & M. El-Fadel, ‘Climate Change and Water Resources in Lebanon and the Middle East’, Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, 125:5 (2002), pp. 343–355;

M. El-Fadel, M. Zeinati & D. Jamali, ‘Water Resources in Lebanon: Characterization, Water Balance and Constraints’, Water Resources Development, 16:4 (2000), pp. 615–638.

71 Lebanese Ministry of Environment, Lebanon state of the Environment Report 2001, Chapter 8: Water (2001).

72 Bou-Zeid & El-Fadel, ‘Climate Change and Water Resources’.

73 Aquastat, ‘Country profiles: Lebanon’.

74 M. El-Fadel, M. Zeinati & D. Jamali,‘Water resources management in Lebanon: institutional capacity and policy options’, Water Policy, 3 (2001), pp. 425–448.

75 S. I. Korfali & M. Jurdi, ‘Assessment of domestic water quality: case study, Beirut, Lebanon’, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 135 (2007), pp. 241–251.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 47 water.76 The additional stress caused by climate change has not been factored into these estimates.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate the problems of water scarcity in several ways. Firstly, by the 2020s, the average temperature in Lebanon is expected to increase by some 0.6 to 1.3°C in the winter and 0.8 to 1.8°C in the summer, relative to the 1961-1990 average.

Obviously, this significant increase in the already hot and dry summer months will have a dramatic impact on the country’s water balance.

Evaporation is projected to increase by up to 6.6% and surplus water to decrease by up to 11% in Beirut. This will mean a reduction of up to 15% in the 2 000 Mm3 of available water resources – while the demand is simultaneously projected to increase. Additional challenges posed by climate change to the water governance in Lebanon will be the increased need for irrigation, the changing flow regimes of rivers fed by snowmelt, and the intrusion of saltwater into groundwater reservoirs.77

A challenging political context…

Lebanon has had a very violent history, partly due to internal tensions and partly to the region’s geopolitics, of which the country has been a constant victim since its independence. This has had disastrous consequences for the country’s water infrastructure and governance.

The most recent conflicts include the civil war (1975-1990) and the Israeli-Lebanese war (2006), which led Lebanon internally to the brink of a new civil war. The situation continues to be tense, with the latest casualties on the Israeli-Lebanese border occurring in the summer of 2010.

The population of Lebanon comprises numerous ethnic and religious groups, of which the biggest are the Sunni Muslim, the Shi’a Muslim and the Maronite Christian sects. The political system is based on the notion of confessionalism, whereby the power in governing the country is distributed according to the power balance of the religious groups. This system, based as it is on the differentiation of the sects, together with significantly changed demographics and a lack of population data, has caused tensions and pressure to rearrange 76 El-Fadel, Zeinati & Jamali, ‘Water Resources in Lebanon’.

77 Bou-Zeid and El-Fadel, ‘Climate Change and Water Resources’.

48 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 the balance of power, but in practical terms, no major reform has been forthcoming so far.78 This history of conflict has taken its toll on the infrastructure of Lebanon. During the civil war and the conflicts that ensued, most of the water supply system was destroyed or at least neglected.79 During the Israeli-Lebanese war in 2006, the Israeli forces centred their attacks on civil targets, such as water and power networks throughout the country, with heavy emphasis on the poor Shi’a regions of Southern Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut. 80 In addition to the direct impacts on the physical networks, conflicts have also affected the capability of the authorities to function. This has caused a state of ineffective governance to the extent that a quasi-disappearance of the authority of the state has been seen to have taken place. As a consequence, an informal sector, competing with the public one and with more or less legal means of supplying the citizens with water, has been developed and keeps growing. This, together with the migration forced by the conflicts, has led to the formation of whole ‘informal neighbourhoods’ with alternative means of providing their inhabitants with the basic water and energy supplies they need. The best-known example of these informal settlements are the southern al-Dahiyeh suburbs of Beirut. 81 … leads to water governance problems It is therefore evident that the problems of the water sector in Lebanon not only have to do with the hydrological facts, but the history of conflict has also had an impact on the malfunctioning of 78 I. Salamey & R. Payne, ‘Parliamentary Consociationalism in Lebanon: Equal Citizenry vs.

Quotated Confessionalism’, Journal of Legislative Studies, 14:4 (2008), pp. 451–473.

79 K. Makdisi, ‘Towards a Human Rights Approach to Water in Lebanon: Implementation beyond “Reform”’, Water Resources Development, 23:2 (2007), pp. 369–390.


Makdisi, ‘Towards a Human Rights Approach’; E. Verdeil, C. Féré & F. Scherrer, ‘De la rétroaction entre différenciation territorial et modèle universel des services urbains en réseau:

les enseignements du cas libanais’, Flux, 75 (2009), pp. 27-41.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 49 the water sector. The sectarian character of the Lebanese political system also influences the governance of water. In Lebanese law, water has traditionally been considered a public good. Until relatively recently, it has been part of the local governance system built on ancient patron-client structures, whereby the political elite provide services to their clients rather than governing affairs through a statecitizen relationship. This means there has been no incentive for the legislator to create a legal entitlement to sufficient water as this might threaten the status quo practices. What is more, citizens have been used to getting the services from their traditional leaders instead of the state.82 The first regulations on the urban services were laid down during the Ottoman era and the French Mandate which succeeded it, resulting in a structure recognizing the power of the ancient local authorities, patronages and committees. This system has been described as convoluted, incoherent and slow in its actions.83 A progressive revision of the water governance structure was initiated in the 1950s and 1960s, albeit with interruptions in the implementation of the new structures due to various conflicts, notably the civil war.

Finally, in 2000 a new Water Law was approved, which brought with it a merger of the regional and local water authorities into five Regional Water Establishments.84 Yet the legislation concerning the ownership of water and the right to distribute it continues to be essentially vague and based on the Ottoman laws with some revisions. 85 82 Makdisi, ‘Towards a Human Rights Approach’; Verdeil, Féré & Scherrer, ‘De la rétroaction’;

V. Shields, ‘Political Reform in Lebanon: Has the Cedar Revolution Failed?’, The Journal of Legislative Studies, 14:4 (2008), pp. 474–487.

83 Makdisi, ‘Towards a Human Rights Approach’; Verdeil, Féré & Scherrer, ‘De la rétroaction’;

L. Barakat & S. Ghiotti, ‘Quand territorialisation rime avec fragmentation. Les enjeux territoriaux autour de la reforme de la politique de l’eau au Liban’, In: A. Brun & F. Lasserre (eds.), Politiques de l’eau. Grands principes et réalités locales (Québec: Presses de l’Université de Québec, 2006).

84 Unicef, ‘Lebanon’, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector review (2010).

85 Makdisi, ‘Towards a Human Rights Approach’.

50 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 Since 2000, water governance in the Greater Beirut area has been allocated to the Establishment of the Water of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, an authority working under the Ministry for Energy and Water. The Establishment works in co-operation with the Council for Reconstruction and Development, which is in charge of all rehabilitation work with regard to water infrastructure. The Ministry has launched a 10-year plan to coherently govern and develop water management in the country.86 However, the Ministry has recently experienced a significant loss of power to the regional Establishments that are now in charge of all water and sanitation projects in their jurisdiction.87 The religiously and ethnically splintered power system is seen by many researchers as a root cause of the problems in Lebanese water governance. The political system was consolidated to represent the current population more accurately after the civil war in the so-called Taif Accord in 1989, but the system is still based on the old sectbased powers. The confessional system, combined with the multiple challenges of conflicts, population growth and rapid urbanization, among others, has evoked criticism, some as blunt as calling the Lebanese government ‘ill- equipped to deal alone with the present challenges’.88 The regional water authorities lack the money and data they need to operate efficiently, political actors do not have a clear and strong vision of how to improve the situation, and the inefficient supply networks and wasteful consumer habits worsen the water situation day by day.

Urbanization adding to the water stress It is impossible to quote the actual population of Lebanon, as no national census has been conducted since 1932 due to the political sensitivity of the balance between different religious groups in the 86 Makdisi, ‘Towards a Human Rights Approach’; El-Fadel, Zeinati & Jamali, ‘Water resources management in Lebanon’.

87 Makdisi, ‘Towards a Human Rights Approach’.

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