BEIRUT: A crisis committee was formed Wednesday to tackle the serious water shortage in Lebanon and discuss the creation of seven new wells across the country.
Future MP Mohammad Qabbani, who heads the Committee for Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water, which announced the measure – known as the parliamentary energy committee – said the emergency group would try to find short-term solutions in order to solve the urgent water-related issues in the country caused by lack of rain.
The crisis committee includes relevant departments headed by the Energy Ministry and representatives of the Agriculture, Industry, Environment, Education, Interior and Information ministries as well as state water companies.
If the drought carries on for two consecutive years, this could lead to a real “crisis,” Qabbani said, adding that it was necessary to find both immediate and longer-term solutions.
Lebanon has been suffering from dire water shortages this year due to a significant lack of rainfall during the usually wet winter months.
From December last year to the end of February this year, Lebanon only had 318 millimeters of precipitation, as opposed to last year’s amount, which was 693 millimeters.
The areas that have been affected the most, Qabbani said, were Greater Beirut and Damour River.
Attending the meeting Wednesday was Energy and Water Minister Arthur Nazarian, a number of MPs, head of the Friends of Ibrahim Abdel-Aal Association Nasser Nasrallah, head of the Council for Development and Reconstruction Nabil Jisr, several engineers and advisers, and representatives from the Environment and Agriculture ministries.
Qabbani said the parliamentary energy committee stressed the importance of generating comprehensive guidelines for the water sector, with a focus on the current status of water resources, their geographical distribution and current and future consumption patterns along with the location of consumers.
Qabbani added that Lebanon witnessed a similar drought approximately 50 years ago, but added that the population was smaller then.
“Concerning the rationing of consumption, it appears that agriculture consumes about 60-70 percent of water, which needs to be addressed quickly,” Qabbani said.
Some 270,000 hectares of Lebanese land is cultivated, Qabbani said. Of this, 120,000 hectares are irrigated, only 35 percent of which is done using modern technology. When farmers use these irrigation methods, efficiency is increased by 50 percent, Qabbani said.
“The committee has thus recommended that the bailout institution increase its distribution of small loans to farmers in order to update their irrigation methods,” he said, adding that farmers would not normally need more than $5,000.
The crisis committee will meet with the parliamentary energy committee in a month in order to discuss the results of their findings.
Nazarian himself issued a memorandum late last month seeking to address the water crisis that put the onus to cut water consumption on municipalities, state companies, schools, universities, farmers, industrialists and citizens.
A number of other solutions have been proposed to the crisis committee, including storing accumulated rainfall in buildings.
“It has been shown that there is an urgent need to deepen existing wells and dig new wells,”Qabbani said
In light of this, Director-General of the Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Establishment Joseph Nseir announced the creation of seven new wells: two 300-meter-deep wells in Beit Mery, another two 250-meter wells in Qashqoush, a 500-meter well in Aley, a 450-meter well in Ain Dara and a 300-meter well in the Jamous-Hadath area.
The digging will begin in late March, Nseir said.
According to Qabbani, the parliamentary energy committee’s work on the country’s water supply began in 2001 and it has since been behind a series of measures to improve the sector, including a recommendation in March 2007 to commission the Council for Development and Reconstruction and the National Council for Scientific Research to prepare a study of the dangers facing Lebanon as a result of climate change and global drought.
“It is as though seven years ago we were talking about the year 2014,” Qabbani said.
“We also organized in February 2009 a national and international workshop, and we issued important recommendations to the government, including the preparation of a modern water balance to determine the amount of precipitation, rainfall and snow, and the flow of rivers and springs, evaporation and seepage into aquifers, on the basis of complete and new data.”