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Campaign pushes government to save Litani from pollution

The Qaraoun reservoir along with the Litani River provide some 400 million cubic meters of water per year.

QARAOUN, Lebanon: A comprehensive plan encompassing all levels of government is required to save the Litani River and Qaraoun reservoirfrom pollution, civil society activists and government officials said Sunday. In a media tour to the Litani River basin in the Bekaa and Qaraoun Resevoir, the Association of the Friends of Ibrahim Abdel-Aal announced a new campaign to address the environmental problems confronting Lebanon’s longest river, which supplies water for households, irrigation and, through its dam, produces hydroelectricity.

“This is the beginning of a campaign to shed light on Lebanon’s water resources,” said Nasser Nasrallah, the association’s president.

The Litani River, which falls entirely within Lebanese territories and empties in the Mediterranean Sea, has seen a number of projects since the country’s independence. The Litani River Authority (LRA), an independent agency, was established in 1954 to oversee the development of the Litani basin.

“We start with the Litani River because the water that can be most preserved, controlled and used is the Litani River and the Qaraoun Reservoir, which provide on average some 400 million cubic meters of average water per year,” said Nasrallah, who is also a former director of LRA.

“A ministerial committee needs to be formed to address the threats against the river,” he added.

Built in 1959, the reservoir and its dam, the largest in Lebanon, have been primarily used to create between 170 and 190 megawatts of hydroelectricity, as well as to supply water to the surrounding towns and villages.

The three hydroelectric power stations in the country – Markaba, Awali and Jun – used to supply 50 percent of Lebanon’s energy until 1970s, according to the Director-General of LRA, Ali Abboud.

“The reason why we need to preserve the Litani River is because key projects to supply water to Greater Beirut and to south Lebanon are dependent on the river,” Nasrallah said.

LRA officials told The Daily Star that the industry, health and interior ministries have key roles to play in preserving the river and bringing to a halt to the pollution, which is mainly due to the dumping of industrial, medical and hard waste along the river basin.

Abboud said that pollution was not considered a threat when the project was launched. “No one thought of pollution and its threats on the river back in the 1940s and 1950s,” Abboud added.

According to Abboud, pollution became a serious environmental problem in the Litani following the Civil War. “Today we have found some dangerous chemicals in the water.”

“The most serious threat comes from the industries on the Litani basin that operate without the necessary waste treatment plants ... Dangerous chemicals from the industries are being found in the water,” he added.

Standing on the Qaraoun dam with activists and members of media, Information Minister Walid Daouk praised the association’s initiative, calling it a “prime example of partnership between the private sector and the government.”

“Not all Lebanese know the problems facing the Litani River, and today the media has an important role in shedding light on the subject ... We need to understand the problems so that we can find the good solutions,” Daouk added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 01, 2012, on page 4.

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