BEIRUT: Faced with Lebanon’s worst water shortage in years, the government is hoping a new awareness campaign will inspire the public to conserve water as it struggles to manage the crisis.
The campaign, which launched Tuesday with a 180,000-euro ($244,000) grant from the European Union, will fill billboards, television and radio spots with tips for saving water, such as turning off the faucet while brushing one’s teeth and shaving, and watering houseplants with the water used to wash vegetables. Others feature children telling their wasteful parents “if you love me, save me some water.”
The project will also include educational activities in schools across Lebanon, culminating in a National Water Day.
In addition to raising public awareness about domestic water consumption, the campaign will also target institutions and businesses in agriculture, industry and tourism.
Lebanon experienced an unusually dry winter, and water reserves are running low. Many people have already started buying unregulated private water, which can be contaminated, while farmers complain that their crops are dying.
Energy and Water Minister Arthur Nazarian blamed the crisis on wasted water and changes in the weather, as well as the presence of over a million Syrian refugees for Lebanon’s water depletion.
“All of this has caused our current situation, which we have called a national state of emergency since the first day, and we worked with the relevant ministries and administrations to minimize the repercussions and negative effects on citizens and all productive sectors,” he insisted.
Nazarian went on to offer a rough outline of the Cabinet’s as-yet unannounced plan to address the water crisis, which he said includes reducing water consumption, speeding up development projects, fixing infrastructure, securing alternative water sources and deepening existing wells.
The ministerial plan builds on a parliamentary proposal calling for severe restrictions on water use, including a ban on certain types of irrigation, washing cars and sidewalks, and watering lawns, under threat of fine.
The proposal also called for the government to seize control of private wells while fixing the existing infrastructure to stop leaks.
The plan was heavily criticized by experts, however, who said the infrastructure and enforcement mechanisms needed for implementation do not exist. Neither the parliamentary proposal nor the ministerial action plan has been voted on in either chamber.
Speaking on behalf of EU Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst, Alexis Loeber, head of the EU delegation’s cooperation section, told the audience at the launch of the new campaign that a rapid response was needed to Lebanon’s water crisis, which is occurring in the context of regional desertification.
“We all rely on and often take for granted a steady and safe water supply,” he said. “However, are we responsibly managing that supply, and do we educate our children to use this limited resource responsibly?”
“The same could be asked of the way we return water, wastewater, to nature. In this regard Lebanon has work to do. Just 8 percent of wastewater is adequately treated before being returned to nature,” he said, adding that an EU-funded water treatment plant was under construction, but that its completion “has been affected by delays.”