Last week, the Minister of Environment blamed building violations for the “unacceptable” condition of of El Ghadir River, claiming that one of the sources of pollution is sand washers and called for an investigation to determine the full impact the washers have on the river.
El Ghadir River is located in the southern suburbs of Beirut, one of the most densely populated areas of Lebanon. The area is equipped with poor infrastructure exacerbated by the high congestion of buildings. Environmental problems are a result of years of dumping household and industrial waste into the river. The wastewater generated in this area is served by the Ghadir Wastewater Treatment Plant, a preliminary treatment plant that serves approximately one million people living in the capital Beirut and discharges its effluent 2 km into the Mediterranean. In 2015, the European Investment Bank and Islamic Development Bank agreed to fund the expansion of the treatment plant, upgrading the sewer networks in the catchment area, and converting the plant to a primary treatment plant. The project, however, is still on hold.
There are three major industrial areas along the Ghadir drainage area: Beirut Southern Suburbs, Choueifat/Kfarchima and Hadath/Baabda. The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment of the Extension of Al Ghadir Wastewater Treatment Plant found “no accurate information as to whether these industries are connected to the existing municipal wastewater collection system or whether they discharge to the Ghadir River”. However, the increased concentrations of Iron, Cadmium, Nickle, Mercury and Copernicium indicate that some untreated industrial wastewater is discharged into the municipal sewage system. Another study found a high level of heavy metals in the water of Al Ghadir River indicating the discharge of industrial wastewater into the river as well.
Despite the presence of legal standards and emission limits that regulate the discharge of industrial wastewater (Ministry of Environment Decision 8/1 of 2001), there is no legal mechanism that ensures these limits are respected. The Environmental Compliance Decree of 2012 (Decree 8471) aims to address this situation by forcing industrial establishments to abide by environmental regulations; however, this decree will only be enforced by 2018-2020.
In order to address this problem, information on the amount, type and destination of wastewater generated from each industry needs to be collected. This is not only essential for formulating sound effective policy, but is needed in order to select technical solutions. The National Water Strategy developed by the Ministry of Energy and Water set a goal to have all factories pretreat their wastewater before discharging by 2020. This will be difficult to achieve if there is no information on the characteristics of the industrial wastewater being discharged.
The situation at the Ghadir river is an important reminder that a lot of measures are needed to tackle river pollution in Lebanon. Information on each pollution source and its impact needs to be available to help design mechanisms and policy to protect water resources and safeguard the wellbeing of residents and environmental resources.