Two studies by the Beirut Arab University and Lebanese University have revealed the extent of river pollution in Lebanon over the past decade. The studies concluded that there are high concentrations of heavy metals, residue from olive oil production, dangerous bacteria, untreated waste, and illegal dumping in the Hasbani River and the Lower Litani River basin. Rash Badr, lead researcher of the Hasbani study said “This alarming situation indicates that people using the water for consumption or recreation are at high risk of contracting waterborne diseases and that agricultural products resulting from irrigation pose a risk to residents of the basin or to consumers”
The Italian Foreign Ministry and the Lebanese government celebrated the 5th anniversary of the marine data-collecting ship the Cana. The data-collecting ship is part of a joint Italian-Lebanese initiative called Pesca Libano. This initiative provides fishery management technical assistance to the Ministry of Agriculture. During the celebration, a press conference was held where a group of Lebanese scientists and one Italian presented data collected over the past 5 years on pollution, coastal wildlife, hydrobiology, fishing practices, bottlenose dolphin sightings and other topics.
Fish stock levels of the Mediterranean Sea are at a very low level. According to the European Environment Agency over 65% of all fish stocks have exceeded biological limits. In fact, the IUCN estimates that 21 fish species in Lebanon are considered threatened. This render the Cana an important initiative because there is a severe shortage of data and information, a common problem in Lebanon, on the status of Lebanese fisheries. Lebanon’s coastal line is about 225 km and fishing is a common practice from the south to the north of the country. The average fisherman earns about 25% less than the country’s minimum wage; therefore, maintaining fish stock levels has major socioeconomic implications.
The Minister of Environment Mohammed Machnouk on Thursday asked environmental groups for their input in raising awareness about water consumption. Machnouk explained that Beirut requires about 250,000 cubic meters of water a day; however, the government can only provide 130,000 cubic meters of water. This request comes after a disappointing level of rain this year. The ministry has offered some suggestions to reduce water consumptions such as fixing water leaks, using less toilet water and taking quicker showers.
Water conservation techniques have already been discussed on this blog. The frequency of this topic on local media indicates the seriousness of this issue. The table below compares the average rain fall during March of three Lebanese regions with this year’s level in March:
|Region||Average rainfall (mm)||Rainfall in 2014|
Bekaa has the lowest levels compared to last year, as one of the agricultural regions in Lebanon this shortage will have serious implications to food production and security. These levels were recorded from the meteorological department of the Beirut International Airport. Earlier this year there were inconsistent recordings between this department and the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute. Without reliable and consistent measures between these government entities, developing a water strategy will be much more complicated.
The Ministry of Industry and Ministry of Environment have announced a memorandum of understanding between the two ministries on integrating common environmental indicators with the data on industrial enterprises. The Minister of Environment Mohammed Machnouk said that similar deals will be signed with other ministers; he added “preserving the environment is a common responsibility among all individuals and institutions.” The Minister of Industry Hussein Hajj Hasan said “Our main goal is to use clean energy in the manufacturing process instead of using fuel and diesel.”
This is an important step in curbing pollution in Lebanon. Industrial activities are a major source pollution; about 294 companies discharge their industrial and chemical waste in the Litani River. The figure below contains the air pollutants from local industrial activities . Zouk Mikhael & Mousbeh in the Mount Lebanon district contains the highest amount of pollutants followed by Jieh Sibline, Saida, & Ghazieh in the South.
Last Friday the Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk launched an EU funded environmental governance program. The program aims to improve the environmental performance of the Lebanese public sector by implementing reforms in the different ministries. The cost of environmental degradation in Lebanon is over 800 million Euros a year and all the various problems (such as waste management, land degradation, air and water pollution) has been affecting the livelihoods of the Lebanese. This project will assist the Ministry of Environment in updating the National Environmental Economic Action Plan and will also “lay the foundations for a comprehensive environmental strategy for Lebanon.”
The problem of environmental degradation is a big burden to many other Arab countries. The figure below summarizes the World Bank’s calculated cost of environmental degradation (as a percent of GDP) of 7 Arab countries. The country with the worse performance is Egypt at 4.8% and Tunisia has the lowest cost at 2.1%. If no efficient measures are started to tackle this problem, the cost of environmental will be much more significant than it is today.
The “Garbage Mountain” in Saida is infamous for decades of environmental pollution in the city and along the coast. It has been used as a dump for the Saida’s 250,000 residents for over 40 years.
Fortunately, last year, the Saida Municipality, Ministry of Environment, and UNDP joined forces to embark on a project that will solve this menacing problem by burying the garbage in a sanitary landfill and reclaiming the land to build a 35,000 square meter public park, greened hilltop, and a breakwater to prevent future waste dumping in the sea. This week, the Mayor of Saida announced that 70% of the trash has already been removed.
Solid waste is a major environmental problem in all of Lebanon, not only in Saida. The lack of proper waste disposal sites and recycling plants has caused severe pollution and nuisance issues throughout the country. A few months ago, residents of Naameh held demonstrations demanding the closure of the overloaded Naameh landfill near their homes and prevented waste disposal trucks from reaching the dump site. The government has promised to close the Naameh waste site by the beginning of 2015; however, a solution and alternative site have yet to be determined.
The Jiyeh power plant has been polluting the surrounding sea in South Lebanon. The head of the Professional Divers Union Mohammad Sarji claimed that the management have been irresponsible and allowing the runoff to enter the sea. According to locals large sections of the sea were covered by an unidentified black substance. Sarji explained that the electricity company uses high pressured hoses on a regular basis “to flush all residues from pipes and machinery.”
“Project Blue Gold’s 5-Year Plan is a step towards awakening national conscience and achieving economic preeminence and equilibrium for Lebanon. If Blue Gold succeeds, Lebanon will emerge as a model for economic growth, social conviviality and inspiration for all Arab youth seeking viable solutions for their future.”
An advertisement campaign was recently launched to get the citizens of Lebanon to vote for a water reform plan proposed by the private sector. It is called the Blue Gold Project. TV commercials such as this: and online ads urged the Lebanese to vote for this project. Blue Gold aims to obtain a million votes to support its 5-year plan that includes the establishment of a National Water Council for Lebanon “free from any political influence”. In the local media, the project was either praised as a way to improve the water situation in the country, or accused of trying to privatize the water sector and commoditize water for personal profit. Continue reading
On Sunday Environment Minister Mohammed Machnouk warned that an increase in temperature this month will make Lebanon more prone to forest fires: “starting May 14, Lebanon will witness a rise in temperatures for several days, which raises the likelihood of fires.” The warning comes after firefighters struggled to put out a huge forest fire in Baabda last week. The director general of the Association for Forests, Development, and Conservation warned that campers and picnickers can accidentally cause fires if they are not careful where they place their barbeques or open fires. Paul Abi Rached, the head of the Lebanese Eco Movement, argued that until December all open fires should be banned.
Lebanon and Israel have recently been in a dispute over the cleanup of Hasbani River in South Lebanon. The winter rains caused some rocks to move and block parts of the stream, Israel refused to grant permission to the Lebanese to move these rocks and cleanup the river. The Hasbani River is split in half by the Blue Line putting the eastern part of the river under the jurisdiction of Israel. Residents of South Lebanon believe that Israel has no legitimate control of the river and will go ahead with the clean up. Israel withdrew its objection and the cleanup of the river started today under the supervision of the UNFIL forces and Lebanese Army. Continue reading