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U.S. signs water MOU as Moqbel warns of crisis

Water tank trucks refill with water in Beirut, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The United States Embassy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with four regional water establishments Friday, as the ministerial committee following up on the looming water crisis announced plans to draft an action plan to tackle shortages.

Access to water was singled out as a top priority for Americans and Lebanese by U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale, during the signing ceremony held at embassy headquarters in Awkar. The MOU will formalize U.S. cooperation with water establishments in the Bekaa Valley, north and south Lebanon, Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

“With the dry winter we had in Lebanon this year, we’ve seen shortages, authorities have asked us to conserve, and there are fears the taps could dry out,” Hale said.

The MOU, signed by the United States Agency for International Development, defines a framework for cooperation between the USAID-funded Water Infrastructure Support and Enhancement program – a $26.2 million grant provided by USAID to enhance Lebanon’s water resource management – and each of the water establishments to improve overall financial and managerial performance.

The ministerial committee tasked with following up on Lebanon’s looming water crisis will draft an action plan within a week that will include short- and long-term solutions to address shortages, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel said Friday.

“The ministers agreed to ... propose it to the committee and then to Cabinet so that the government can make appropriate decisions,” Moqbel told reporters after the end of the committee meeting he chaired.

Moqbel said the country was in need of technical solutions to face the crisis.

“Water shortage is now an inevitable crisis that requires fast and technical solutions to prevent the dangerous repercussions on citizens,” the defense minister said.

Chaired by MP Mohammad Qabbani, several parliamentary committees met earlier this week to discuss the water crisis and announced proposals to address the issue.

The proposals call for restrictions on water use – including a moratorium on irrigation for seasonal crops, in exchange for compensation to farmers – and a ban on washing cars and sidewalks and watering lawns, under threat of fine.

They also called for patching up existing infrastructure in order to prevent leaks and lifting VAT on the importation of water. They called for exploring the possibility of importing water from Turkey by sea using huge fabric balloons called Spragg Bags.

During the ministerial committee meeting that was attended by the environment, public works and industry ministers, Qabbani gave a detailed presentation about the committee’s recommendations.

Moqbel said the ministers also agreed that future solutions should focus on constructing dams and lakes as well as organizing awareness campaigns to limit water consumption.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk spelled out the severity of the shortfall.

“The shortage ... is around 400 million cubic meters,” he told a local magazine. “We are only able to adopt water rationing policies for domestic and industry use.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 12, 2014, on page 2.

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Summary

The United States Embassy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with four regional water establishments Friday, as the ministerial committee following up on the looming water crisis announced plans to draft an action plan to tackle shortages.

The MOU, signed by the United States Agency for International Development, defines a framework for cooperation between the USAID-funded Water Infrastructure Support and Enhancement program – a $26.2 million grant provided by USAID to enhance Lebanon's water resource management – and each of the water establishments to improve overall financial and managerial performance.

The ministerial committee tasked with following up on Lebanon's looming water crisis will draft an action plan within a week that will include short- and long-term solutions to address shortages, Defense Minister Samir Moqbel said Friday.


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