Lebanese start to face unprecedented water problems

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Water shortages due to low precipitation levels and lack of nation-wide water management

Lebanon has long been a country abundant in water and as such most Lebanese have taken water for granted thinking that they will never have a shortage in or problems with it.

It was apparent that this year has had very little rain [1,2]. Indeed the numbers indicate that the precipitation levels have not even reached half the average annual of 900 ml. This, of course, has led to a huge deficiency in water reserves [3,4]. But the main problem does not lie in the low precipitation levels this year rather it lies in the incompetence of the Lebanese authorities “and most Lebanese” to manage and conserve water.

On one hand, the authorities have not been doing their job of investing in the main source of life by managing the water (and sewage as a matter of fact; see below on this) in order to effectively exploit it and not waste it. They have not been working on conserving this abundance in water by preventing leakage, building dams, replenishing underground reservoirs, introducing artificial ponds, or dealing with the r
andom wells being dug and un-licensed water suppliers.

This is demonstrated in what Claude Tabbal, an expert on the water resources in Lebanon, said to Azza el-Masri and Raed Khalil of the Al-Akhbar newspaper [4] on June 26:

”We get 800 cubic meters of water per year, but up to 65 percent of it is lost each year”

IMAG0720

An common view of the water distribution system

IMAG0720

at the base of every building

On the other hand, the majority of the Lebanese citizens are also an incompetent people given that they are almost always driven by political, sectarian, and religious reasons. They are always ready to participate in such movements but have not even considered moving for their own benefit and future generations’ benefit. Not only they have never initiated a movement to force the authorities to implement a practical plan to manage and conserve the water resources.

Moreover, in their daily use they don’t even give a thought that the water they waste now through extra consumption or washing cars and countless other examples, is not coming back. It is simply wasted.

One additional and very affecting cause for the water problem is the fact that Lebanon has more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Of course I do not like to blame them for the problem as many people would do but we also cannot undermine their effect on the situation.

Water stress

As you can observe in image below, the “water stress by country” map by the World Resources Institute (WRI) indicates that Lebanon is one of the countries under high water stress (enlarge for a clearer view or check the following interactive map; click on Lebanon for the details). But given that the map was published in 2013 and the reality about this years’ precipitation levels and lack of water conservation, it is safe to say that Lebanon has fallen to the “extremely high stress” level.

Water stress by country, Gassert et al., Aqueduct, WRI 2013 [5]

To get an idea on the basis of how this map was made, the minimum we need is to know what indicators the WRI has used. As stated on the respective page [5], the indicators to assess water stress in a country are as follows:

  • Baseline water stress: the ratio of total annual water withdrawals to total available annual renewable supply.
  • Inter-annual variability: the variation in water supply between years.
  • Seasonal variability: the variation in water supply between months of the year.
  • Flood occurrence: the number of floods recorded from 1985 to 2011.
  • Drought severity: the average length of droughts times the dryness of the droughts from 1901 to 2008.

Each of the first, second and last points are very relevant to Lebanon this year. It is obvious that the Lebanese are extracting more water than is being replenished by rain due to the low precipitation levels this year thus increasing the baseline water stress indicator. As a matter of fact in Table A1 on page 9 of the beforementioned paper indicates the following numbers for the baseline water stress for Lebanon:

Rank Country All sectors Agrigultural Domestic Industrial
28 Lebanon 4.54 (0.52) 4.42 (0.52) 4.75 (0.44) 4.60 (0.50)

where the numbers in parentheses are standard deviations. Here’s the interactive map again (click on Lebanon for the details).

Indeed according to the scale used the numbers indicate (4 < 4.5 < 5) Lebanon is indeed in the extremely high water stress level.

For the detailed methodology used to produce this map please refer to the paper which is a work in progress [5].

Moreover yesterday, June 9 2014, a ministerial-parliamentary meeting proposed to

  • take control of water wells, compensate to their “owners” and divert the water or relocate it to the public water network
  • “halt” the loss, repair the networks, and fix the damages “immediately”
  • attempt to import water from Turkey with the appropriate methods and especially through Spragg bags.

This is ironic since around a year ago some materialistic politician wanted to export Lebanese water to Cyprus.

The politician in the report mentions “spragg bags”, but what are these? Well as the name implies they are bags and are called Spragg bags after their inventor Terry Spragg. Check the following video for some more details

For more on the Spragg bag check this Wikipedia article.

There’s no indication of the date of this coverage but from what this page indicates it could have been in 1996.

From the same website, and from 1997, it is interesting to read that water serves as the precursor of war and that such technology will very much have a great effect on war and peace especially in the Middle East. Some thinkers have said this for years and I believe now it is becoming obvious because we are already in the midst of such a war. More on this is left for another post:

MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS APPLICATIONS:

“MANY OF THE WARS IN THIS CENTURY WERE ABOUT OIL, BUT WARS OF THE NEXT CENTURY WILL BE OVER WATER.”  Ismail Serageldin, Vice President, Environmental Development, The World Bank, New York Times, August 10, 1997.

Waterbag technology will have a direct impact on the Peace Process in the Middle East.

Israel and its neighbors are having serious political difficulties agreeing on how to share the scarce water resources in the region.  In addition, Turkey has raised grave political and military concerns in both Syria and Iraq over its water diversion plans.  The support of a demonstration of waterbag technology by California leadership that can deliver large volumes of fresh water using waterbag technology will offer a specific ìon the groundî opportunity for the United States to demonstrate a technology that will have a direct impact on these potentially dangerous political confrontations.

As an example, industrial and domestic water use in Gaza is 29 million cubic meters per year (80,000 M3/day – 65 acre feet/day).  Because 500,000 cubic meters per day (450 acre feet) is now available from a recently completed pipeline for waterbag deliveries from the Manavgat River in Turkey, Spragg waterbag technology has the capability to double or triple the industrial/domestic water supply to Gaza while still allowing for significant waterbag deliveries to other regions in the Middle East from the Manavgat project.

The novel, WATER, WAR AND PEACE, has been completed (and as yet unpublished) that details the solutions waterbag technology offers to the complex political problems surrounding water issues throughout the Middle East.

Our sponsors’ support for a test of waterbag technology delivering waterbag water from Humboldt Bay to San Francisco Bay, Monterey, and Southern California will play a significant role in the Middle East Peace Process, for which our sponsors can take credit and be proud of their endorsement of waterbag technology.”

Lebanese underground water is contaminated

As if this is not enough, an article by Meris Lutz in The Daily Star [6] concentrates on the fact that the Lebanese underground water is mixed with seawater and contaminated with sewage. Fresh underground water has been mixed with salt water due to the high demand on pumping underground water from wells and reservoirs that are drying up. This, in case of near-shore wells, will lead to the refilling of the wells with seawater.

Even worse than this is what Nadim Farajalla, an environmental hydrologist at the American University of Beirut says:

“A lot of our groundwater is contaminated with sewage.”
[…]
“While most of the water being sold privately is intended for domestic use and not for drinking, activities such as showering, brushing one’s teeth, or washing fruits, vegetables and dishes could introduce the contaminants into the body.”

Though several recommendations are included in the article but I think that those solutions are inefficient and are not suitable enough solutions. For example the “reverse osmosis purification system” (Wikipedia) are inefficient in that they waste 75% to 95% of the water (Wikipedia) as due to the lack of enough pressure. With an already leaking water system we cannot afford any additional loss especially.

The only practical solution to this problem in my view is that the Lebanese pressure the officials and authorities to restore the sewage disposal network and introduce decentralized sewage processing centers and units across the country. If industrial reverse osmosis purification system centers are introduced they will able to recover up to 90% of the contaminated water (Wikipedia). Counter that with the 5% – 15% of household systems. Of course this requires a huge initial investment and regular maintenance, the latter of which is a major problem in Lebanon.

Unfortunately we live in a country where sea-based oil and gas reservoirs have been discovered and we still do not have a water and sewage management network reliable enough nor has a working and practical plan been devised nor employed to reduce the effects of climate change on the country. I seriously cannot foresee any positive future for this country and its citizens.

As a last word I would like to say to people that even though we have been taught and we claim that water just like the Sun and the wind are renewable resources of energy, but that does not mean that they will continuously be clean or useful. It is up to us humans to manage and make good use of these resources instead of depleting them. Yes all of these “renewable” resources can and will get depleted. It is just a matter of perspective and time that they are renewable. For example, as we are seeing now fresh water gets wasted and contaminated and so it is not renewable. Similarly the Sun will eventually die … after 5 billion years. And the wind might not exist if Earth lost its atmosphere (then it wouldn’t matter to us since we won’t be there to need wind!). But the latter two are just natural occurrences while the case of water is in our hands. So let’s do something about while we still can.

References & Resources

[1] Precipitation remains very low despite heavy rain in Lebanon, The Daily Star
[2] The absence of rainfall in Lebanon: upcoming water crisis? (SPNL)
[3] العجز المائي تخطّى 400 مليون م3 هذه السنة لبنان يتّجه إلى أزمة مياه مع غياب الحلول الجذرية
[4] Dealing with Lebanon’s chronic water shortages, by Azza el-Masri & Raed Khalil, Al-Akhbar English
[5] Water stress by country: Gassert et al., Aqueduct Country and River Basin Rankings, World Resources Institute, 2013
[6] Lebanese bathing in contaminated water, by Meris Lutz, The Daily Star
[7] Water emergency … and the government resorts to import water from Turkey
(حال طوارىء مائية…والدولة ستلجأ الى تركيا لإستيراد المياه), LBCI, 2014-07-09
[8] Spragg bag, Wikipedia
[9] Reports on water in Lebanon from LBCI
[10] The World’s Water -Information on the World’s Freshwater Resources
[11] The USGS Water Science School, U.S. Geological Survey (water cycle diagram for kids)
[12] U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) -Water
[13] Water Conflict Chronology, Pacific Institute (list, map)

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