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Lebanon News

Drought puts agriculture, tourism at risk

Youth sunbathe in Manara, Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Lebanon will experience another dry week, weather experts say, with some voicing fears that the persistence of current trends could negatively impact the country’s agricultural sector in the long run. A snowstorm that hit Lebanon in December raised hopes that this winter would bring abundant rain. But dry weeks followed, and there has been no rainfall so far this month.

Marc Whaybi, the head of the Meteorological Department at Rafik Hariri International Airport, said that according to the department’s forecasts, it would not rain in Lebanon before Jan. 28. “It doesn’t look like it is going to be a rainstorm but just normal rainfall,” he told The Daily Star Monday.

Whaybi said that up until Monday, average rainfall had been way below levels from this time last year. He added that the current average was well below average levels of rainfall over the past three decades.

Whaybi said that this winter, rain storms and cold fronts in the region hit countries south of Lebanon, including Egypt and Jordan, as well as Gulf states. “We cannot determine the main and exact reason for this,” Whaybi said.

Whaybi explained that last year had been “generous” in terms of precipitation. He said that in Beirut, average rainfall up to Jan. 20 of last year was 455 millimeters while the general average in the past 30 years was around 440 millimeters.

This year’s average so far is a mere 238 millimeters.

In Tripoli, the average for this time last year was 586 millimeters and the general average was 454 millimeters. The average for this year so far is 341 millimeters.

In Zahle, the average last year was 385 millimeters, the general average was 301 millimeters, while this year has seen a mere 157 millimeters, Whaybi said.

Whaybi explained that the year 1986, along with a year in the early 1940s and mid-1990s witnessed similar droughts.

“We still have February, March and the beginning of April, I hope that it will rain to compensate for this shortage,” Whaybi said.

Abdo Bajjani, a weather expert who served as the head of the Meteorological Department at Rafik Hariri International Airport in the past, said there was a jet stream above Lebanon preventing cold fronts and rain from reaching the country.

“There is a jet stream at an altitude of 11,000 or 12,000 meters above our region that is blocking cold fronts from reaching us,” Bajjani explained.

Echoing Whaybi, Bajjani said that Lebanon had witnessed a similar weather conditions in the past two decades.

Bajjani said that climate change, resulting from pollution and ozone layer depletion, made it difficult to expect normal weather patterns in the future.

He said that the U.S. was witnessing a harsher winter than usual, while heavy rainfall could be seen in Europe without the typical sharp drop in temperature.

“This drought, if it persists, will lower the groundwater level in the wells and will decrease the flow of the springs that flow into our rivers,” said Hadi Jaafar, assistant professor at the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the American University of Beirut.

“It will also decrease agricultural productivity,” he added.

Jaafar said that if January ends without rain, then the month would be the driest in 100 years.

“What is the average rainfall in January in Beirut? Records from the American University of Beirut rainfall station show that it was 195 mm for the period of [1874-1975], and those from the Civil Aviation Authority show it was 172 mm for the period [1932-2008],” he said.

“Without going into too much statistics, and if as forecasters say, no rain is expected until February, we can for sure say that the probability of getting less than 10 millimeters of rainfall in any single year in January is less than 2 percent,” Jaafar said, adding that this has not happened in the last 140 years, making January an anomaly.

The little rain expected this year has prompted a severe water shortage in many villages of Kesrouan. Wassim Mhanna, the mukhtar of Kfar Zabian, told The Daily Star that the Shabrouh Dam, was nearly empty. The dam which falls in Faraya, feeds all the villages of Kesrouan and some in Metn.

“Last November, the Water Authority of Beirut and Mount Lebanon emptied the dam of water in order to clean it up, as it hasn’t been cleaned since it was constructed nearly a decade ago,” Mhanna said.

“They were hoping that it would rain in the coming weeks, but this did not happen and the dam is empty now,” he said.

Mhanna added that the villages of Faytaroun, Mairouba, Ballouneh, Ashqout and other Kesrouan villages were suffering from severe water shortage. “Residents there are buying water on a daily basis,” he said.

“I am 42 and I haven’t witnessed such a drought in all my life. I am now sitting in my house in Kfar Zebian at an altitude of 1,500 meters above the sea and I am only wearing a shirt,” he said. “I feel really hot when I enter my car.”

The lack of snowfall has also harmed the touristic ski season, which has yet to start. “We believe that we have lost half of our ski season now,” said Fadi Fraifer, the manager of the Faraya Mzaar resort.

He said that usually, the ski season begins in December and lasts till April. “This is a problem that we cannot be compensated for,” he said. “We are currently adopting a policy of austerity.”

But Fraifer voiced hope that it would rain toward the end of January. “It would be impossible not to have a winter without snow.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 21, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

Dry weeks followed, and there has been no rainfall so far this month.

Whaybi said that up until Monday, average rainfall had been way below levels from this time last year. He added that the current average was well below average levels of rainfall over the past three decades.

Whaybi explained that last year had been "generous" in terms of precipitation. He said that in Beirut, average rainfall up to Jan. 20 of last year was 455 millimeters while the general average in the past 30 years was around 440 millimeters.

In Zahle, the average last year was 385 millimeters, the general average was 301 millimeters, while this year has seen a mere 157 millimeters, Whaybi said.

Whaybi explained that the year 1986, along with a year in the early 1940s and mid-1990s witnessed similar droughts.

Echoing Whaybi, Bajjani said that Lebanon had witnessed a similar weather conditions in the past two decades.

Jaafar said that if January ends without rain, then the month would be the driest in 100 years.


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