BEIRUT: Cleanup of the heavily polluted Litani River and Qaraoun Reservoir will cost much more than the originally planned $150 million, Environment Minister Nazim Khoury said Monday. Khoury said it is critical to target the broad range of pollution sources that have made the river and lake a severe health hazard.
But he said current plans to build treatment plants at a cost of $150 million are simply not enough to do the job given how heavily the river is polluted and how many people rely on it.
“A large portion of Lebanese citizens are affected by the subject of energy and water and their repercussions on agriculture in Lebanon,” Khoury said after a meeting on the pollution at the Environment Ministry.
Government efforts to care for the river will be useless without tackling the sources of the pollution and fining violators who dump waste into the river, the minister added.
The Litani River, which irrigates and provides drinking water for much of the country, has levels of bacterial contamination far above safe drinking water levels. The river is used as a dumping site for industrial, medical, agricultural and home waste.
Studies conducted along the waterway have shown an increase in diseases and digestive problems due to ingesting the water and crops grown with it. The river water is so foul smelling and full of insects that many residents by the water’s edge have relocated.
A $150 million government plan to build water treatment plants has been held up by a lack of funds, with lawmakers pointing fingers at the government and Environment Ministry for not contributing their share.
Khoury said he has had to revise his initial endorsement of that plan given all the problems of waste dumping that have not been addressed. He called for the government to seek out new sources of funding to cover the extra expense of additional treatment programs.
The meeting Monday included representatives from local developmental bodies who proposed a number of plans to tackle the pollutant problem. He said attendees of the meeting will meet again to further explore the plans and implement the best solution.
In January Speaker Nabih Berri and Primer Minister Najib Mitaki launched a Litani River project to provide over 300,000 residents potable water and irrigate large areas of land. Phase one of the project cost $330 million, most of which was supplied by the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development and the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development.
It’s unclear how far the various plans will actually go toward cleaning the river and providing people usable water. Similar projects have been in the works for decades as leaders sought to develop the country’s infrastructure and provide water to more people in the countryside.
In the meantime, the problem could get worse if the government doesn’t act quickly. A new plan to allow irrigation with the Litani up to 800 meters will spread the overall footprint of the poisonous water.
“The polluted Litani waters will spread to a larger area if the problem is not treated in as quick a time as possible,” Khoury said.