Monthly Archives: June 2014

Traffic safety and the data problem of Lebanon

accident blog

Source: TMC Lebanon

Traffic safety has been a major issue in Lebanon since the 1990s; however none of the governments have committed to any serious measures to tackle this issue. There have been a few minor attempts to regulate the traffic but these actions were limited and never continuous.

In order to formulate effective traffic safety policies, there is an important need to organize traffic data. There are three stakeholders in Lebanon that deal with traffic data:

  1. Internal Security Forces – Publish data on number of accidents and number of deaths
  2. Lebanese Red Cross – Publish data on injuries and deaths from car accidents
  3. Various NGOs – Who work with traffic data published by the World Health Organization

Most countries collect traffic data through a national system that relies on databases from police and hospitals; no comprehensive system exists in Lebanon. There is no traffic data before 1980; and there has been a disparity between the traffic collected by Lebanese authorities and traffic data from the World Health Organization.

Click here for original article (Arabic)

Information and data collection is a major problem in Lebanon affecting various sectors; and when data is available it is not always reliable. The government does not publish all economic indicators and are also not very consistent in publishing them. Precipitation levels differ between different government agencies. There is a lack of cadastral data and obtaining specific data in certain areas is very difficult. This is considered to be a major constraint in the agricultural sector. Many factors contribute to this problem and without reliable data, development faces a major obstacle.

Low quality and unregulated water in Lebanon

Mendez England & Associates

Source: Mendez England & Associates

Due to the shortage, the Lebanese are turning to private sources of water. A problem with these private wells is that they are not monitored properly. Only salinity and calcium are tested because of their tangible effects (tastes and pipe clogging) but not microbes. However, a lot of Beirut’s groundwater is contaminated with sewage, due to old or non-existent wastewater infrastructure. Even if not used for drinking purposes, even bathing in this water may pose a health risk.

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The state of Lebanon’s water resources has become a major concern for both the government and the people. With a lack of proper facilities to treat them, Industrial, municipal, and wastewater have been dumped into rivers and seas for decades. Earlier this year 17 people were diagnosed with hepatitis as a result of contaminated water. Improving the quality of water needs to be a top priority for the current government of Lebanon. The first step would be to promote awareness of end users on the local water quality, especially regarding the use of unlicensed water tankers. Clean safe drinking water needs to be provided whilst protecting groundwater aquifers. Wastewater intrusion should be limited by rehabilitating the aging network. Only 58% of the country is connected to a wastewater network; increasing coverage and improving the existing network will have a positive impact on the country’s water quality and standard of living for the population.

What is the solution to the Naameh Landfill problem?

map blog

source: wikimapia.org

The Minister of Environment Mohammed Machnouk has denied claims by the Municipality of Jiye that the waste of Beirut and Mount Lebanon will be redirected from the controversial Naameh landfill to the coastal town. The president of the municipality of Jiye insists that a Jiye landfill plan is underway without any consultations with the stakeholders, explaining that if the plan is indeed implemented, it could have detrimental effects on the local economy which is heavily dependent on tourism. With 6 months remaining until the deadline of the closure of the Naameh landfill in January 2015, the Government of Lebanon has yet to offer a solution for this problem but promises a comprehensive plan that integrates recycling with the use of old quarries will soon be revealed.

Click here for original article (Arabic)

A breakdown in trust between the public and the government is a major obstacle to solving the solid waste problem in Lebanon. Any municipality will likely reject hosting the infamous landfill because of disastrous experiences in the last few decades, lack of information sharing and ineffective environmental enforcement.

Pollution in Ras-Al Ain River

The drought and rising temperatures has caused the Al-Bayada spring and Ras-Al Ain River to dry up. The river flows through downtown Baalbek and has been used as a dump site by neighboring houses and restaurants for many years. Although this problem has been ignored for a long time, the decrease in water level has made the pollution more noticeable. Hamad Hassan, the mayor of Baalbek explains “The rise of building and the construction of artesian wells around the spring have had a direct effect on the level of water and its pollution.”

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Environmental Law for the Oil and Gas Sector of Lebanon

060731-lebanon-oil_big

Source: National Geographic

The various stages involved in the exploration and extraction of oil and gas could have adverse environmental impacts such as oil spills, a significant increase carbon emissions and the risk of uncontrolled fires.  The best way to contain such possible scenarios in Lebanon is through proper policies and legislation. In order to protect the environment from these potential outcomes, the following legal issues need to be considered:

  1. Develop a comprehensive legislative framework to protect the environment from the adverse effects of exploration for oil and gas. This includes contingency plans for the various possible negative impacts, monitoring mechanisms to oversee the contingency plans and a process to identify those responsible for the incident.
  2. Set procedures to assess environmental damage, determining the responsible party, establish a system that fines wrongdoing, and determining the amount of compensation that needs to be paid, all based on the polluter pays principle.
  3. Create a fund that would cover the costs for environmental damage to which all stakeholders contribute proportionally.
  4. Set up a monitoring system that covers health, safety, and environmental issues.

Click here for original article (Arabic)

Lebanon’s political environment has put major obstacles for the development of the oil and gas sector in the country. During a 10 month political deadlock, the gas tender was delayed three times. It is estimated that Lebanon has about 96 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves and 865 million barrels of oil reserves; which is worth more than US$ 600 billion. This money could help pay off Lebanon’s debts and stimulate the economy. However, the activities proposed should not impinge on the state of the environment and could in fact positively contribute to improving it through funding the needed infrastructure works.

Lebanon’s past experience with a major oil spill was in 2006, when more than 15,000 barrels of oil were spilled into the Mediterranean as a result of the Israeli bombardment of the coastal Jiyyeh power plant. It took about 4 years to clean up the spill; this experience highlights the importance of setting up a legal framework to deal with environmental concerns in the sector, and demonstrates the high costs associated with potential accidents.

Jounieh Floating Island

The Municipality of Jounie prohibited the construction of a 3,400 square meters floating island along the coast. The floating island is meant to be a massive resort containing a beach resort, hotel, gym, nightclub, restaurant, and sporting activities. The Mayor of Jounieh rejected the floating island because Jounieh does not have the infrastructural capability to accommodate the expected high number of guests and for environmental reasons. In fact, there was no clear waste and sewage management plan for the proposed structure.

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Artificial islands are not a new phenomenon in the Middle East. In the past 10 years, Bahrain, Qatar and UAE have constructed islands that have proven very problematic for the marine environment; the massive amount of sand and rocks used in their construction has buried coral and damaged significant parts of the marine ecosystem.

Litani River Clean Up

On Thursday an ambitious seven-year programme law costing $US 730 million to clean the Litani River was announced. The programme law was approved by the finance and public works committees in Parliament but awaits approval from the Parliament which is currently not convening due to a political deadlock. The draft law was written by MPs from the Bekaa and the South, the two regions that have been affected most by pollution of the Litani. An estimated US $712 million of the project fund will go to sewage treatment; the major pollutant of the Litani River.

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Lebanon is in dire need of such a programme as pollution in the country’s rivers has reached critical levels. Unfortunately, not all sources of funding for for the programme activities have been secured yet. The government has so far raised $US 19 million from the European Union and about $US 55 million as a loan from the World Bank, with $US 656 million still needed to cover all project costs.

If parliament approves this programme law, then Lebanon commits to secure the funds for this project either from foreign or local sources. However, the government allocating funds from its own budget seems highly unlikely, considering the budget crisis it is currently suffering from. This has become a recurring problem; many projects in the country have been discontinued due to lack of funds. For example, many wastewater treatment plants that have already been built are not operational because of lack of financial resources. If these resources had been adequately provided, it is possible that pollution in the Litani River would not be as severe as it is today.