Minister highlights new plans to improve supply

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bassil warns of serious water shortage in September

BEIRUT: Lebanon may be facing a serious water crisis in September and October if the government fails to take quick actions to contain this problem, Energy and Water Minister Jebran Bassil said.

Bassil’s remarks came during a news conference at the ministry to highlight new plans to improve water supply.

Many experts have warned that Lebanon will experience an acute water shortage due to the sharp drop of rainfall in the winter seasons.

Successive governments have failed to address the issue of water and some ministers have even claimed that the costs involved in building water dams and artificial lakes was too hefty for Lebanon.

Experts added that over-consumption, over-pumping and mismanagement are causing Lebanon’s fresh-water wells to become contaminated with salt water, making the reserves unfit for human consumption, a recent study shows.

Lebanon has been gradually depleting its water resources through mismanagement, pollution or simply wasting it into the sea, with the Energy and Water Ministry estimating 1.5-billion square meters of rainwater gets washed into the sea each year.

The situation is so dire that last year experts warned that Lebanon could run out of water by 2015 if current trends were not reversed.

In spite of this the Cabinet has decided to delay all discussions on the construction of 11 water dams which were proposed by Bassil.

The minister said that the Cabinet has agreed in principle to build more water dams but the funds have not yet been made available.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN-associated body, pledged $16.64 million, while reports emerged from Byblos Bank that the US government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Energy and Water Ministry to provide support worth $27.5 million for Lebanon’s water sector.

The IFAD money will go toward funding the “The Hilly Areas Sustainable Agricultural Development Project,” which is intended to help smallholder farmers and rural communities in Akkar, North Baalbeck and Hermel, South and Lower Litani and Mount Lebanon, address the problem of increasing water scarcity.

Bassil asked all Lebanese and international water companies which have sound experience in water management and are not graded to send their applications to the Energy and Water Ministry to explore the possibility of signing contracts with them in the future.

The minister revealed that some of the offers for the construction of water dams were too costly and did not meet the real requirements of the Energy and Water Ministry.

He accused some companies of manipulating the prices and breaching the contracts signed with previous governments.

Bassil also commented on the poor state of artisan wells and sanitary water in most areas in Lebanon, stressing that more investments are needed in this area as well.

“We are in dire need of water and we fear that all the rainfall in October will end up in the sea if we don’t have dams,” the minister said.

Bassil called on citizens to ration the use of water in the winter and summer until the problem is solved in the future.