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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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88 B. Fattouh & J. Kolb, ‘The outlook for economic reconstruction in Lebanon after the 2006 war’, The MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies, 6 (2006), pp. 96-114.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 51 country. According to estimates, however, the population today amounts to some 4.13 to 4.25 million people.89 Growth has been rapid in the past decades. If the development continues as projected, there will be more than five million Lebanese by 2050. 90 The Greater Beirut area, which covers the region in and around Beirut City, has, according to different estimates, 1.5 to 2.2 million inhabitants. This corresponds to between a third and about half of the country’s total population.91 The city has faced rapid urbanization in recent decades: while the total population of Lebanon has almost trebled between 1950 and 2010, the urban population has seen an almost eightfold increase (see Table 1).

While the most rapid urbanization has indeed taken place in the past, the trend is continuing, accelerated by population growth.

Between 2010 and 2050, the population of Lebanon is projected to grow by almost a million people, which implies a growth in the urban population of more than a million. Evidently, the projected trend means growth will continue in the Greater Beirut area as well. 92 Table 1. Urbanization in Lebanon93

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89 CIA, ‘Country profile: Lebanon’, The World Factbook 2009 (Washington, DC: CIA, 2009);

UN, ‘Country profile: Lebanon’, The 2008 Revision Population Database. World Population Prospects (UN Population Division, 2008), http://esa.un.org/unpp/. Accessed on 25 June 2010.

90 UN, World Population Prospects, Lebanon.

91 Korfali & Jurdi, ‘Assessment of domestic water quality’; G. Yamout & M. El-Fadel, ‘An Optimization Approach for Multi-Sectoral Water Supply Management in the Greater Beirut Area’, Water Resources Management, 19 (2005), pp. 791–812.

92 UN, ‘Country Profile: Lebanon’, The 2007 Revision Population Database. World Urbanization Prospects (UN Population Division, 2007) http://esa.un.org/unup. Accessed on 25 June 2010.

93 UN, World Urbanization Prospects, Lebanon; World Population Prospects, Lebanon.

52 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 An example of the difficulties caused by the rapid urban population growth and the stagnant governance is the water conveyor project between the river Awali and Beirut. The project, formally initiated by the Council for Development and Reconstruction in the mids, has been planned for decades but the final decisions on its construction are still pending. The conveyor would provide Beirut with 260 000 to 520 000 Mm3 of potable water every day. Even with just a water supply of 260 000 Mm3 in the first phase of the project, the water shortage in Beirut could be completely covered during the rainy season and almost completely during the dry season, based on current consumption estimates.94 The World Bank worked on the project until 2000 but then dropped it as no progress was being made.

Recently, the conveyor found its way back onto the World Bank’s agenda as part of a larger Greater Beirut Water Supply Project. 95

Water for a thirsty metropolis: Case Beirut

As we have seen, Lebanon’s water sector problems can be attributed to any number of identifiable causes. The challenging hydrological conditions combined with urbanization, and a history rife with conflicts and bad governance have all led to a situation where the availability of clean water varies temporally and spatially, and remains in deficit in several places. Beirut constitutes a prime example of this as only 10% of its inhabitants get clean water daily from the municipal supply service during the dry season.

The provision of water in Lebanon is seen as the responsibility of the public sector. However, in reality the situation in Beirut is controversial. According to the official state statistics, 100% of urban households in Lebanon are connected to the water supply system. 96 94 The water shortage is currently estimated to be 145 000 m 3/d during the wet season and 275 000 m3/day during the dry season. Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for Awali-Beirut Water Conveyer project, Study Update, Executive Summary (Beirut, 2010).

95 CDR, Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.

96 Aquastat, ‘Country profiles: Lebanon’.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 53 Yet researchers, and indeed the UN, agree that there are problems with the water supply in terms of both quality and quantity. 97 The Greater Lebanon area is generally considered to be overpopulated, and it is widely acknowledged that not all of its citizens have access to the water supply system or decent sanitation.98 According to one estimate, about 22% of the population of Beirut is not even connected to the public water supply system. 99 Due to the scarcity of water, inefficient supply systems and overpopulation, the public sector is now accountable for only 50%-60% of the water consumed in the Greater Beirut area. The rest of the demand is covered by purchases of water in bottles and containers, partly from uncontrolled vendors in the informal sector and by drilling uncontrolled private wells.100 The biggest markets for informal private vendors in Lebanon are the southern suburbs of Beirut where the public sector supply is most inadequate.101 Compounding the problems of quantity, the water distributed by the authorities is of poor quality, which causes disease and even child mortality.102 The tap water in Beirut is often contaminated due to poor management of solid waste, hazardous waste and wastewater, the intrusion of saltwater into the supply system, and the corrosion of pipes. The water from the supply system is not generally potable 97 Unicef, ‘Lebanon’.





98 G. Yamout & D. Jamali, ‘A critical assessment of a proposed public private partnership (PPP) for the management of water services in Lebanon’, Water Resource Management, 21 (2007), pp. 611–634; S. I. Korfali & M. Jurdi, ‘Provision of safe domestic water for the promotion and protection of public health: a case study of the city of Beirut, Lebanon’, Environmental Geochemical Health, 31 (2009), pp. 283-295; M. El-Fadel, R. Maroun, L. Semerjian & H.

Harajli, H, ‘A health-based socio-economic assessment of drinking water quality: the case of Lebanon’, Management of Environmental Quality, 14:3 (2003), pp. 353–368.

99 El-Fadel et al., ‘A health-based assessment’.

100 El-Fadel et al., ‘A health-based assessment’; Korfali & Jurdi, ‘Assessment of domestic water quality’.

101 El-Fadel et al., ‘A health-based assessment’; E. Verdeil, ‘Water and electricity networks between stress and reform: from post-civil war reconstruction to the new Lebanese wars’, Paper presented at the conference Politics and Planning of Destruction and Reconstruction in Lebanon (Oxford, 13-14 June 2008).

102 Ministry of Environment, Lebanon state of the Environment Report.

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The boundaries and names shown and the designations used in this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs or the authors, and are for illustrative purposes only.

Map 4. Lebanon due to its poor quality.103 All of these problems are also present in the municipal system: in the case of private wells and water bought from vendors, additional hazards include the presence of toxic substances used in agriculture due to the lack of proper water treatment. 104 Health problems associated with water quality include the presence of Hepatitis A, typhoid, dysentery and various diarrhoeal diseases. The latter is one of the leading causes of child mortality 103 Verdeil, ‘Water and electricity networks’; Korfali & Jurdi, ‘Provision of safe domestic water’.

104 Korfali & Jurdi, ‘Assessment of domestic water quality’; ‘Provision of safe domestic water’.

FIIA REPORT 25/2010 55 in Lebanon and a major scourge in general.105 Up to 750 people are estimated to die prematurely in Lebanon every year due to poor water quality.106 The hydrological situation in Beirut is not ideal. The water supplied by the municipality travels a long way to reach the city. There are two principal sources of water, the springs of Jeita and Kachcoush.

These springs are supplemented by some 64 wells and two further springs. The water from the two main sources is treated at a water treatment plant, pumped to a main storage reservoir, and from there to two subsidiary reservoirs within Beirut City before making its way to consumers.107 The auxiliary sources of water do not go through the treatment plant but are treated at the source. 108 In total, the distribution system comprises reservoirs at 23 sites, 19 pumping stations and about 650 km of pipelines. As the distances are long and the distribution network old and in bad condition, water losses are significant. The past conflicts have inflicted significant damage on the water supply facilities, and reconstruction has been lagging due to resource problems and slow decision-making.

According to estimates, an astonishing 35-50% of the water in the supply network is currently lost due to leakages and illegal retrieval.109 While there have been rehabilitation investments in certain parts of the country to improve the water infrastructure, this has not led to remarkable improvements in the service experienced by consumers. It has become common practice in the last few decades 105 In a study conducted within the city of Beirut, 25% of the population had experienced vomiting and/or diarrhoea because of the water (Korfali & Jurdi, ‘Provision of safe domestic water’). According to another study, 40% of the water samples collected throughout Lebanon were microbiologically contaminated; the water from private vendors in al-Dahiyeh was of particularly poor quality. (El-Fadel et al., ‘A health-based socio-economic assessment’.) The presence of coliform bacteria in the water points to faecal contamination of drinking water, which arises from e.g. cross connections of distribution pipes with sewer pipes (Korfali & Jurdi, ‘Assessment of domestic water quality’).

106 El-Fadel et al., ‘A health-based socio-economic assessment’.

107 Korfali & Jurdi, ‘Assessment of domestic water quality’; Yamout & Jamali, ‘A critical assessment of PPP’.

108 Korfali & Jurdi, ‘Assessment of domestic water quality’.

109 Aquastat, ‘Country profiles: Lebanon’; Makdisi, ‘Towards a Human Rights Approach’.

56 FIIA REPORT 25/2010 to only distribute water for about ten hours every other day, with the supply varying spatially and temporally.110 The complex demographic structure of Lebanon can also be seen in the access to water in Beirut. There are differences in the coverage of municipal water and the power infrastructure of different parts of the town, and the inequalities often seem to concern entire neighbourhoods and the demographic groups living there. It is widely acknowledged that the Southern Shi’a suburbs of Beirut, crammed with illegal housing built for people displaced by wars, are the ones with the most problems in terms of access to water resources from the municipal sources.111 However, these suburbs have their own infrastructure in place, provided and maintained by Hezbollah.112 Another badly affected group are the Palestinian refugees.

The malfunctioning of the water supply is undoubtedly due in part to problematic governance practices, which have left the Water Establishment lacking the resources it needs to improve the system.113 In addition to illegal connections to the municipal supply network, non-payment of water bills is common and tolerated due to the common perception of water as a public good that people cannot be denied. According to one estimate, only 10% of the water consumed is paid for. This unsustainable practice is causing huge problems for the authorities that are supposed to be in charge of the operation and maintenance of the supply system.114 Despite the slew of problems already discussed, some Lebanese water experts think the worst problem in Beirut at the moment is the unsustainability of consumption habits. The current water distribution system is based on flat tariffs for subscriptions instead of pricing based on metering. The tariff system does not differentiate between different types of consumption, such as domestic use or tourist demands. On the one hand, consumers have no incentive to save water as they do not get rewarded for it; on the other hand, real 110 El-Fadel et al., ‘A health-based socio-economic assessment’; Korfali & Jurdi, ‘Provision of safe domestic water’; Verdeil, ‘Water and electricity networks’; Unicef, ‘Lebanon’.

111 Verdeil, ‘Water and electricity networks’.

112 Fattouh & J. Kolb, ‘The outlook for economic reconstruction’; Harb, ‘La Dahiyê de Beyrouth’.

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

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

–  –  –

Conclusions As encapsulated by a local researcher, in Lebanon there is little data but lots of opinions about the country’s and its capital’s hydrological situation, its population, the scope of the problems in the water sector and the best ways to tackle them. Efforts have been made to improve the situation, but the reality is still harsh: the access to clean water in Beirut is already sporadic, the future balance between water supply and demand seems alarming, and the poor water quality causes disease and even premature death.



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