BEIRUT: The South Lebanon Water Establishment launched a first-of-its-kind five-year strategy Wednesday that aims to secure “water for everyone” in the south by 2025. “We have to shift the establishment from a failing establishment to a successful one, which can deliver services to people and which can make its own money,” Wassim Daher, director-general of the South Lebanon Water Establishment, told The Daily Star.
The adoption of Law 221 of 2000 resulted in the restructuring of 22 water boards into four regional water establishments: South Lebanon, North Lebanon, Beirut and Mount Lebanon, and Bekaa. The roles of these establishments include the planning and distributing of water resources within each of their communities; monitoring water quality; and the recommendation and collection of tariffs for water.
When Daher took over in 2018, he said the water sector in the south was in poor condition.
“It wasn’t in good shape before new management came into place in 2018. Water shortages were everywhere, there was bad infrastructure and bad customer management. It was a disaster all over,” he said.
The critical state of Lebanon’s water sector can be largely attributed to over a decade of Civil War, subsequent underinvestment and deteriorating infrastructure.
South Lebanon’s water sector, like most of the country’s, is rife with problems.
Figures from a water security assessment, conducted by the Issam Fares Institute for the South Lebanon Water Establishment, show that over 55 percent of water in the south is wasted through leakages, only 36 percent of water bills are collected, just 54 percent of households are connected to the wastewater network, and illegal tapping is widespread with more than four illegal wells per square kilometer.
The assessment helped inform part of the five-year strategy.
Daher presented the strategy at the launch, which took place at the IFI, tackling challenges including water quality management, water leakages, cost optimization, automation and renewable energy sources.
“Our humble vision is to have water for everyone in the south within five years,” Daher said.
A focal point in the strategy is to ensure consistent water supply by shifting reliance from ground water to surface water. “This is a survival factor for the establishment,” Daher told the audience, which included international donors, researchers and policymakers.
Surface water runs mostly from rivers and springs but “only 40 to 50 percent is being utilized in the south,” Daher said.
The country relies mostly on groundwater, said Nadim Farajalla, director of the IFI’s Climate Change and Environment Program.
To access groundwater, a well needs to be drilled because the water is under the ground. “This is extremely expensive and dangerous because replenishing it is a very slow process,” Farajalla said.
“The shift from ground to surface water is a great thing because it will keep groundwater as a strategic reserve whenever we have low flows or a bad water year. There will still be strategic reserve in the ground that you can access,” he said.
The strategy’s aim to shift from ground to surface water will be facilitated by developing and containing the available springs and by directing that water into storage facilities or reservoirs, Farajalla explained.
“The more they get from those springs, the less reliant we become on wells, or less on the groundwater,” he said.
Daher maintained that if the challenges and goals highlighted in the strategy were met, “we can provide 24/7 water.”