By Mohammad Zaatari
The Daily Star

MARJAYOUN, Lebanon: A meeting was held over the weekend to announce the first steps in implementing a long-awaited hydro-agricultural project that will bring water from the Bekaa to farmers in south Lebanon.

The “Hydro Agricultural Development Project of Marjayoun” is a pilot project on the Canal 800, which is a series of distribution networks that are designed to take irrigation water from the Qaroun Dam in West Bekaa to an area of about 15,000 hectares south of the Litani River.
The “Hydro Agricultural Development Project of Marjayoun” will be a model for other areas in south Lebanon that will benefit from the Canal 800 project.

The meeting took place at Marjayoun National College in Jdeidet Marjayoun at the invitation of one of the project partners, the Association of the Friends of Ibrahim Abd El Al (AFIAL), which is a local NGO that raises awareness of water issues.

The meeting was attended by the head of AFIAL, former MP Nasser Nasrallah, the head of the Rural Development Department of the Litani River Authority (LRA), engineer Kamal Karaa, and a number of mayors, mukhtars and agricultural engineers.

The project is being implemented under the United Nations Development Program, which planned and designed it in collaboration with the LRA. The initiative is funded by the Spanish government, with a project cost of $300 million, through the Lebanese Recovery Fund, a multi-donor trust fund which was established at the request of the Lebanese government shortly following the summer 2006 war.

Iman Abd El Al, a member of AFIAL, said that the association had sent to Italy four delegates, representing farmers from villages in the areas of Marjayoun and Hasbaya, which are part of the pilot hydro agricultural development project .

According to Iman, the delegates spent a week in Italy examining similar water projects and attending agricultural seminars, and the knowledge they gained in Italy will be applied in the pilot project.

Iman added that the project will include preparing real estate and topographic maps, which will be vital for studying and designing irrigation distribution networks, producing or updating soil classification maps, and establishing a land classification database.

“This pilot project will be a reflection of the bigger project on Canal 800,” said Nasrallah, adding that the project was an “initial trial covering a small area … and will be implemented in the southern areas benefiting from the project.”

According to Nasrallah, the trial will involve local communities in the decision making process to ensure that their demands are met. He added that the project will cover an area of approximately 522 hectares in the villages of Burghos, Blat, Dibbin, Ibl al-Saqi, and Jdeidet Marjayoun and that around 1,259 farmers are expected to benefit from it.

The project will focus on land reclamation by constructing infrastructure for irrigation networks and improving the quality of the soil. It will provide farmers with wheat seeds to be cultivated on their lands for two consecutive years.

The project will also advocate for a law establishing a Water User Association in order to ensure good water use management as well as the operation and maintenance of irrigation networks.

“AFIAL has finished drafting the law and will propose it to the new Cabinet upon its formation,” Nasrallah said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 31, 2011, on page 3.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::