BEIRUT, Lebanon – In its biggest financing of a Lebanese project to date, the World Bank has approved a $474 million project for water supply development to address the country’s severe and chronic water shortages that affect more than half the Lebanese population.
In regions like the Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon area, citizens struggle to live daily life with the paltry three hours of water use that they receive daily. To cope with Lebanon’s water shortage, residents resort to paying exorbitant prices for water from tanker trucks, using bottled water, and drawing water from illegal wells.
Though the country’s climate and geography naturally cause drastic fluctuations in water availability, only 6 percent of Lebanon’s water resources are stored, an overwhelmingly low amount compared to 85 percent, which is the regional average. Along with floods in the winter and droughts in the summer, factors like delayed investment, fast urbanization and overdue reforms have worsened the water deficit.
However, increasingly severe droughts and the water demand from over 1.6 million Syrian refugees has mired Lebanon in a serious water crisis over the past few years.
Citizens like Ahmad Sbeity cannot understand why Lebanon, which is known for its plentiful springs and rivers, has such a scarcity of water. Sbeity pays a yearly $1,200 for water from tanker trucks on top of an annual $600 for bottled drinking water. Topped with the annual flat fee of $170 per household for the city water supply, a substantial portion of Sbeity’s income is going toward getting life’s most basic necessity. Meanwhile, the country’s 500,000 people who live on less than $4 per day and cannot afford bottled water must boil their water to limit the risk of consuming dirty water.
“Lebanon has one of the region’s highest per capita water availability, yet families across the country regularly wonder how they will afford the next tanker truck delivery,” said Claire Kfouri, Senior World Bank Water Specialist and Project Team Leader.
The newly approved Water Supply Augmentation Project will reverse the impact of depleted infrastructure, drought, and rapid population growth on the water sector’s sustainable development. The Government of Lebanon and the Islamic Development Bank will provide parallel financing of $15 million and $128 million, respectively.
“This is a national project, of which over 1.6 million people living across the Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon area will directly benefit. An estimated 30 percent of the project beneficiaries live below the national poverty line,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Director of the Middle East Department. “This project can be a driver in reducing poverty and vulnerability, all the while harboring a tremendous potential to boost prosperity across Lebanon’s capital area.”
The project will be carried out over nine years to allow for pre-construction startup work. Along the Bisri River in South Lebanon, a dam will be built to store 125 million cubic meters of water, making it Lebanon’s second largest dam. It will naturally fill up with water during the summer and fall for use in the winter and spring. As the water will flow entirely by gravity, there will be no pumping costs as the water travels through an underground tunnel and receive treatment at a plant along the way.
“By providing a regulated source of clean, abundant water directly to households, the project will contribute to reducing the cost of water to users, while also strengthening national agencies’ capacity to implement needed water reforms and protecting the environment,” said Kfouri.
– Annie Jung