BEIRUT: Looking past the dramatic effects of storm Norma, researchers at the second annual Climate Change Student Competition at the American University of Beirut offered new ideas to tackle the growing issue of water scarcity.
Amani Matar, a master’s student at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands, was one of the joint winners of the event with a project considering alternative uses for water in the Litani River basin.
Currently, water users in the Litani “allocate water in a way to solve urgent issues,” Matar told The Daily Star, rather than distributing it in the most efficient manner possible. The academic said her research would consider how water could be allocated between a number of different users, including those in the environmental, domestic, hydropower and agriculture sectors. Her research would measure “the trade-offs between allocating water for agriculture or hydropower or domestic use,” she said.
“It’s very important to kick off local research because this is something we lack in this country, and at all levels, not just environmental,” said Raya Raphael Nahas, general manager of Banque Libano-Francaise, which sponsored the competition.
Nahas praised the private sector for leading research in areas she believes the government has neglected, and expressed hope that other enterprises would sponsor similar projects. “We are in a country where the state is not taking care of its duties and the private sector has to take its own responsibility ... We think we need to push the private sector, raise awareness among our peers on all environmental issues,” she said.
Praising the partnership between academia and the private sector, AUB professor Nadim Farajallah said, “We don’t have much data being generated on climate change and its impact, so by bringing in universities and in partnerships with the private sector and with support from donors, we’re generating local knowledge.”
Farajallah, who heads the climate change program at AUB’s Issam Fares Institute, said the partnership could help drive local research: “We’re not relying on external sources of knowledge outside the region, so we’re starting to generate a local knowledge base that is based on local aspirations.”
This year’s competition was expanded to students outside AUB, a move Farajallah said would open up the competition to more diverse research and increase its impact. Such interdisciplinarity, he said, would lead to “a bigger outlook, so that we can inform policy.”
More research and a change in policy are necessary, he added, as climate change has been “affecting Lebanon for the past several years. You have reduced snow melt; you have rising temperatures that have been catalogued ... So yes, Lebanon has been suffering, is suffering and will suffer from climate change if we don’t take any action now.”