Last week, the Minister of Agriculture approved the logging of 33,000 trees to build the controversial Janna Dam along Ibrahim River located in Mount Lebanon. The dam aims to store approximately 90 million cubic meters of water and generate four megawatts of energy. It is one of the 55 water infrastructure projects that the Ministry of Energy and Water have proposed to build by 2020 as part of their National Water and Strategy issued in 2012. It will cost around US$ 1 billion.
The Janna Dam has been the subject of much debate since commencement of its construction. In 2012, a report by the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources warned that the location of the infiltration zone would not permit water to be stored there and concluded that “it is strongly recommended not to go ahead with the construction of the planned Janna dam.” Last February, the Geophysical Research Department of the National Council for Scientific Research released their geophysical research findings on the project area of the dam. The study found that the seismic hazard of the site is present and the construction of the site represents a public safety issue.
The Ministry of Energy and Water ignored the German report at the time and approved the dam without even conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment required by law (Decree 8633). The Ministry cites that the project was approved before the decree was issued in August 2012 and therefore technically, they were not bound by its provisions. However, construction didn’t start before the decree was issued and the EIA process therefore still applies. In 2014, the Minister of Environment intervened and requested halting of construction works until the study was carried out. The construction never stopped and an EIA was performed as the works continued.
The Minister of Agriculture’s approval was met with surprise by the Minister of Environment, who sent a letter to the Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Energy and Water and the Governor of Mount Lebanon explaining that resumption of work in the dam area must be approved by the Council of Ministers in compliance with a letter issued by the Prime Minister on September 18, 2015.
The fact that Janna Dam did not go through due process in the beginning means it will remain a controversial project. In addition, the number of studies that indicate adverse impacts that have been overlooked fuels the controversy. A major problem is that the government agencies seem to be in conflict and are not able to fulfill their mandates.
For example, the roles of the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Environment seem to overlap. The Ministry of Environment has a mandate to protect the Lebanese natural environment, yet it has no say in the approval of the logging of thousands of forest trees, which is within the Agriculture Ministry’s mandate. This unclear and overlapping jurisdiction is counterproductive and could render both ministries inefficient. An example of this is the reforestation plans developed by each ministry independently.
Weak government institutions contribute largely to the inability of law enforcement and lead to weak government policy. Ministries cannot operate independently and need to coordinate with each other. In addition, clearer responsibilities and enforcement capabilities should be given to all agencies in order to fulfill their mandates properly.