Regular Complexities: Lebanon's Water Issues

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Case Description
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Geolocation: 33° 53' 19.064", 35° 29' 43.7258"
Total Population 4.2 million
Total Area 10,50010,500 km²
4,054.05 mi²
Climate Descriptors Arid/desert (Köppen B-type), Dry-summer
Predominent Land Use Descriptors agricultural- cropland and pasture, industrial use
Important Uses of Water Agriculture or Irrigation, Domestic/Urban Supply, Industry - consumptive use
Water Features:
Riparians: Lebanon
Water Projects:

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Lebanon is a rather small country of about 10,500 km2[1] but has a very diverse topography. Bordering only Syria and Israel, the topography of Lebanon is striking as there are enormous differences between the Mediterranean coastline and 3,000 meter (~10,000 feet) mountains. Lebanon has more water than other Middle Eastern countries receiving about 8.6 to 10 BCM (billion cubic meters) per year which translates to about 1,700 m3 per person [2]. Comparatively, Israel and several countries on the Arabian Peninsula operate on about 650 m3 and the world average of water resources per capita is about 4,800 m3 per person.[3] Thus Lebanon is relatively water strong for the region, yet remains water strained.

A turbulent history over much of the 20th century, complicated government structures for managing water, and technical challenges in providing water quality are some of the underlying issues that fuel water management challenges in Lebanon. Water challenges for Lebanon include limited cooperation between supply/treatment organizations, lack of coordination between governance stakeholders, and the future constraints due to increased population (to include refugee population increase), increased industrialization and agricultural development, an awareness of ecological needs for in stream flow, and uncertainty due to climate change impacts on water resources.

Natural, Historic, Economic, Regional, and Political Framework

Lebanon receives receiving about 8.6 to 10 BCM (billion cubic meters) of total precipitation per year, which translates to about 1,700 m3 per person [2]. Comparatively, Israel and several countries on the Arabian Peninsula operate on about 650 m3 and the world average of water resources per capita is about 4,800 m3 per person.[3]. Three rivers the Assi (also, Orontes), Kebir, and Hasbani (Upper Jordan) originate in Lebanon[4], but the karst geology hosts many aquifers and springs,[5] which provide the majority of water accessed by the people of Lebanon.

Water Strain

The water strain in Lebanon is noted by El-Fadel, Zeinati, and Jamali who state that current water resources often fall short of meeting demand, leaving the general population and industry without water. They also reference an ESCWA report stating, “Rapid growth and development in the region have led to mounting pressures on scarce surface and groundwater resources to satisfy water demands (1998).” Moreover, the current level of consumption for domestic, industrial and agriculture use is simply not sustainable for the future.[6][7] Bou-Zeid and El-Fadel also support this notion, and comment that available water resources across the Middle East will fall to 667 m3 per person by 2025 due to population growth alone.[8] El-Fadel et al. commented on water balance held a range from 400-1000 BCM/yr, while also noting a lack of knowledge in many hydrologic measures. Domestic user rates also vary greatly depending on the source and industrial demands are similarly unknown.[7]

While acknowledging that future demand will put strain on the water resources of Lebanon, a potentially more pressing threat is the water availability itself. Annual precipitation has been steadily decreasing since the 1960s. This decline averages to approximately a 20% decrease in precipitation over the last 50 years.[9] Similarly, monthly precipitation data also shows a decline in availability by about 8%; however several months display a decline by 12-13% and no months increase precipitation. In many regions of the world, climate change models often show a shift in frequency and schedule of precipitation, although it appears that Lebanon has little variation in timing but a fairly consistent decline in precipitation across the year.

A possible impact of climate change is also the impact of droughts in Lebanon. Historically, droughts have been very severe with a 40-55% less water per annum. These droughts have a particular impact on the agriculture sector: approximately two-thirds of the water in Lebanon is used for agriculture. [7] As noted above, the timing distribution of the precipitation is not ideal, as two-thirds of the precipitation falls between December and March and nearly zero precipitation during peak demand in mid to late summaries. The construction of the Qaraoun Dam on the Litani River in the Bekaa Valley is the country’s largest and was constructed in 1959 to generate power but also stabilize drinking and irrigation water supply.

The water quality in Lebanon contrasts widely, but is regularly very poor. There is often raw sewage and industrial waste that is openly dumped into streams and rivers. [7][10] Technical constraints in Lebanon are described in Table 1 below that further complicate the operation and management potential for the country.

Table 1: Technical Water Constraints [6]

Constraints Exhibited via
Crumbling water distribution networks (municipal and irrigation) Large losses in excess of 50%, insufficient number of water treatment facilities
Groundwater contamination Biological and chemical pollutants – lack of enforcement
Illegal connections (or removal of flow meters) to the municipal water network and irrigation supplies Lack of capital to invest and maintain with a lack of enforcement
Design of current water systems cannot adapt for future demand Isolated systems not designed for larger populations or development

There are many hurdles for suitable water management from the natural and technical fields; yet the potential for even greater strain remains a constant threat without deliberate action.

Political Background

After World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Lebanon was formed by the League of Nations. A very brief summary of events is outlined below:

Lebanon Timeline[11]

Year (Start) End Year (if applicable) Description
1920 1943 French Occupation
1932 -- Census
1944 -- Independence from France
1975 1990 Civil War
1982 -- Israel Invades Lebanon
1990 2005 Syrian Occupation of Lebanon
2006 -- Israel- Lebanon War
2011 present Syrian Refugees flee to Lebanon

A balance of power was established under French occupation in the 1920s-30s that divided government positions by religion based on the 1932 census. This disbursement of positions was based on the recognition of 19 religions at the time of the census. The last 50 years of Lebanon’s history is marked with war and decades of foreign occupation. Fifteen years of civil war (1975-1990) segregated much of the country and was based on religious and ethnic tensions.

The representation of religions dictated during the French rule gave the majority of power to the Christians, based on census information. In an attempt to gain national unity despite a specific allocation of roles, the government was structured around a sharing of power between the president, prime minister, and the speaker of the house, but also goes on to dictate that the president to be Maronite Christian, the prime minister to be Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the house to be Shi’a Muslim. As such, any political move also becomes a religious statement that represents various geographic portions of the country. No census has been carried out since 1932 leaving much to be known of the population which vary between 3.6 and 7.1 million people[7], although about 4.2-4.5 million is generally accepted. More importantly however, is the shift in religious majority within Lebanon. While exact percentages are not known, Christianity has not been the majority religious affiliation for decades. Arguably, the balance of power has made the government highly ineffective as Christian, Sunni, Shia, and 16 other religions are specifically represented in each government office with their own political agendas. A new census would provide political power to change the constitution and upset the current allocation of power, thus is controversial.

Water Governance

The government structure to manage water resources is itself, a complicated array of agencies and policies. It has taken nine separate laws or decrees since 1966 to arrive at the current structure. The table below outlines the legal progression over the last 47 years.

Table 2: Lebanese Water Law (ARD)

Legislative Document Year Summary
Law 20/66 1966 Establishes the Ministry of Hydraulic and Electrical resources
Decree 5469 1966 Organizes and defines the role of the Ministry of Hydraulic and Electrical resources
Decree 9365 1968 Sets principle for water projects budget preparation and certification
Decree 14607 1970 Forms a committee to solve disputes within the ministry
Law 221 2000 Amends and modifies the role of the Ministry of Hydraulic and Electrical Resources
Law 241 2000 Cancels the Ministry of Hydraulic and resources, merges into Ministry of Energy and Water and amends the organization
Law 103 2000 Gives director general authority
Law 377 2001 Adds municipal wastewater to the ministry’s authority

The creation of the Ministry of Energy and Water should have helped to streamline the operation and management of Lebanon’s water resources; yet the governmental structure remains bureaucratic and complex. Table 3 outlines the general roles of the government departments related to water operations. Several publications after 2001 do not describe the water governance structure in the same way with the Ministry of Public Works and Regional Water & Wastewater authorities seemingly omitted; this could allude to a lack in clarity of roles and responsibilities.

Table 3: Department and role of water actors (ARD)

Department Role
Ministry of Energy & Water (MEW) Design and implement large water systems (similar to USACE in the United States). Monitors water quantities, qualities, plans for potable water supply, permitting, environmental concerns, enforcing documents
Litani River Authority (OLN) Potable water supply within GoL county wide plan
Ministry of Public Health (MPH) Water quality testing. Maximum loadings – biological & chemical
Ministry of the Environment (MoE) Environmental Concerns (mainly wastewater)
Water Establishments Economic targets for potable and irrigation water. Monitors water quality influent and effluent
Local Municipalities Supervise projects within borders. Permitting.
Other Stakeholders, including:
Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), Min. of Agriculture, Min. of the Displaced, Min. of Defense (MoD), & Min. of Justice, among others
Supervise public work projects, potable water in displaced areas, plan and implement projects

The complicated description of roles is further exemplified through the data exchange among different agencies. This convoluted exchange of information is witnessed in the figured titled "Data Exchange between Government Water Stakeholders" that showcases 14 different agencies included in collecting and/or disseminating water information.[12]

Schematic of Govt Water Data Exchange Lebanon (UNESCWA)

At first glance, this appears to positively involve many stakeholders at the national, local and regional levels; however, while nearly every sub-department has direct contact with the Ministry of Energy and Water, there is no clear structure for jurisdiction or authority at lower levels. Not only does this highlight the potential for monopolistic control, it also highlights the potential for inefficiency, as significant amounts of information pass through a single entity, the Ministry of Energy and Water. Government agencies are typically not isolated and need to operate in conjunction with other agencies, yet the data exchange structure seems to rely on fringe stakeholders instead of establishing a hierarchal structure. This could have been established to appease political agenda, thus forcing various involvements and leading to ineffectiveness. The unsuccessful governance has been witnessed by the population and is shown through the lack of enforcement of government policies, including environmental pollution or basic infrastructure. An article from a Lebanese newspaper explains: “Lebanon has struggled with environmental reform for years. Environment officials and activists say the country’s enforcement of environmental laws has been lax and that the powers of environmental prosecutors are seriously curtailed.” (Daily Star, 9 Nov 2012)

Water Governance Challenges

The organization of water management is itself a challenge, yet there remains several more aspect that greatly hinders the effective management of Lebanon’s water resources. Some of these are natural constraints but many are a result of years of civil unrest and underdevelopment. El-Fadel (2001) summarizes several authors (Nimah & Hajjar, 1995; Ja’afar, 1996; Jaber, 1993, 1996; El-Fadel & Zeinati, 1999) to broadly describe some of the national challenges.

Table 4: Water Challenges

Challenge Reason or Effect
Limited cooperation between water supply and wastewater treatment Only adopted within Min. of Energy and Water in 2001
Lack of coordination between districts (Cazas) Irregular water distribution. Local priority rather than regional or national priorities.
Disregard of water policies from public No enforcement of policies
Water resource records inconsistent/complete Records are dispersed among many agencies and not consolidated – minimal sharing of information
Overlap in traditional water authorities and new government authorities Civil war and unrest halted the operation of national entities, a reliance on local providers then prevailed
Duplication of authority Multiple government agencies have authority to carry out water related projects
Water management Water authorities defined by political boundaries, not basins.
Future water constraints Policies that reflect practicalities of Lebanese political viabilities

Water governance faces many current and future constraints but also is put under additional stresses such as ‘population growth, industry/agriculture development, ecological needs, climate change, non-sustainable development, and a lack of awareness’ (ARD Report) that further erode the sustainability of Lebanon’s water management in the coming years.

Refugees in Lebanon

Palestinian Refugees

About 100,000 Palestinian refugees arrived in Lebanon in 1948 and were never able to return home. In fact, another surge in Palestinian refugees occurred during the Six-Day War in 1967 adding to what is today nearly 450,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon. [13] [14] The Palestinian population currently accounts for approximately 10% of the Lebanese population but often is marginalized without true citizenship anywhere. Many speculate that the influx of Palestinian refugees, whom are primarily Sunni Muslim, helped to ignite the civil war in 1970. There are a dozen Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon, often in a state of disrepair and severe overcrowding, and remain in a political void with marginalized rights.[15] A branch of the United Nations called UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) was dedicated to assist in the management and well-being of Palestinian refugees.

Syrian Refugees

The Arab Spring in 2011 created a great deal of unrest in the Middle East and has continued in Syria for more than two years. As of late 2013, more than 2.2 million people have fled Syria for surrounding countries including nearly 900,000 to Lebanon [16]. The Lebanese government disagrees with UNHCRs population estimate as underreporting and has claimed more than one million Syrians have been in Lebanon since December of 2012 [16]. Political and historical pressures did not allow for refugee camps to be established in Lebanon like Jordan and Turkey, because of the (perceived) political and social disruption stemming from the Palestinian influences. This action, or the lack thereof, forced large numbers of families into informal tents across open farmland, unfinished spaces behind shops, and squalid settings throughout Beirut, Tripoli, and other areas all over the country. Approaches to assist this vulnerable population have been stymied by the Lebanese internal political disparity and difficult humanitarian demands from the global community. Without formal refugee management, the Syrian refugee population puts an enormous strain on the local host community, while access to adequate water and sanitation remains dismal.[17] Lebanon has failed to adequately address the enormous amount of people that sudden arrived in country, about a 20% increase in population over a two-year period. The infrastructure simply cannot handle the increased and sudden demand.

This enormous influx in refugees would be difficult for any country to address, but further complicating any response is the type of needs for the Syrian refugees. Also, as displayed above, Lebanon cannot adequately meet its own current or future water needs, let alone meet the additional magnitude of the refugee influx – yet immediate needs remain. Further complexities are founded in that the Syrian refugees have inherently different needs than the Lebanese host communities. The refugees find themselves in temporary housing situations that are void of water and sanitation. A large population in rural and peri-urban areas without previous access to municipal supplies differ from the local population needs. The Regional Response Plan (RRP) is a United Nations planning tool to help estimate the current and future needs of the refugees. The water and sanitation needs included in the RRP6 is for 2014 and is summarized below:

RRP6 – Needs and Challenges (UNHCR RRP6)

Water: Sufficient access to safe drinking water is a critical, ongoing need, particularly as the refugee population has put significant pressure on water systems in areas where large numbers of refugees reside.

Sanitation: Basic sanitation facilities are a necessity for the health and dignity of refugees. An increasing number of refugees live in informal settlements with limited or no sanitation facilities. This creates increased risk of the spread of preventable diseases. Waste management remains poor in most of places where refugees live, increasing the pressure on host communities.

Hygiene: As refugees arrive with few possessions, many lack basic items for personal and household hygiene. Without regular supplies, refugees face deterioration in their wellbeing and dignity. UNHCR provides hygiene kits to newcomers, and refugees continue to receive hygiene items on monthly basis once registered.

Strained infrastructure in host communities: The presence of refugees in the local community has put pressure on existing infrastructure and resources including water. Water supply and waste management in areas hosting Syrian refugees have deteriorated. UNHCR is working with local Water Establishments and municipalities to ensure continuous access to safe water at the household level and basic sanitation facilities in all areas under pressure.

There is also the difficult task of prioritizing needs among geographic areas, individual families, and acknowledging the strain on the local host communities. The government of Lebanon has sought assistance from the World Bank to estimate the strain on the country because of the refugee influx in economic indicators. Questions also remain in the timing of available response, potential for contingency measures and scope of potential timeframes. The war in Syria has been on-going since 2011, but no one knows how long it will continue. Due to the time involved in infrastructure projects, the applicability of some projects only become feasible with a two or three year outlook, yet the uncertainly of investment is unclear and quickly becomes a political issue. Ever more strain is experienced when UNHCR estimates that of the 833,000 registered Syrian refugees, more than 725,000 are in need of WASH assistance, but the sector is only 66% funded which leaves enormous unmet voids in humanitarian response. Moreover, contingency measures cannot be conceptualized when current needs remain unaddressed, yet the potential for even more refugees flooding the borders remain a threat as billions of dollars are still needed to respond to the current populations.

Issues and Stakeholders

Strained Water Access

NSPD: Water Quantity, Water Quality, Governance
Stakeholder Types: Federated state/territorial/provincial government, Sovereign state/national/federal government, Local Government, Industry/Corporate Interest, Community or organized citizens

Water Governance

NSPD: Ecosystems, Governance
Stakeholder Types: Federated state/territorial/provincial government, Sovereign state/national/federal government, Local Government

Analysis, Synthesis, and Insight

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Key Questions

Power and Politics: How can government be dis/incentivized to offer an inclusive planning process?

The current state of mismanagement and authority provides a strong basis for an inclusive planning process. Top-down authority is weak already, thus including many local and regional actors should be natural. This also would help to address the regional power structures that have been outside the national government structure. Furthermore, the current challenges are large and require buy-in from the entire population. The government is under-resourced in staff capacity and financially (El-Fadel) so there should be a sizable incentive to bring additional parties into the planning process for ideas but also investment options.

Power and Politics: How do national policies influence water use at the local level?

National policies have been influential to local users, yet not in a positive way. This can be seen in that only 47% of households were connected to the public water network in 2007 (UNESCWA), illegal connections to the water network (El-Fadel) or that there is a general disregard to the environmental policies by the public (Daily Star). Decades of conflict and unrest eroded the capacity for many federal and local government agencies – water included. Masri (1997) also notes that soil, wildlife, forestry, along with water and other natural resources has a long history of neglect and mismanagement. The lack of capacity has since translated to a crumbling infrastructure (El-Fadel) and a disillusioned population that has little to no expectation from their government. ‘Non-sustainable development and a lack of awareness’ (ARD Report) also highlight a lack of oversight of water resources from the government. This has been exasperated by the structure for water management agencies, but truly is represented in the lack of accountability of those responsible for water governance.

Integration across Sectors: How can consultation and cooperation among stakeholders and development partners be better facilitated/managed/fostered?

Involving all relevant stakeholders would go far beyond government ministries or local water districts to bring in representatives from agriculture, tourism, industry, conservation, and others. This will help with building trust and also transparency to the decisions, while ultimately achieving buy-in among the stakeholders.

Values Many stakeholders only acknowledge actions that have taken place or plan for a terminal output, such as a dam or irrigation diversion. This ‘conclusion thinking’ disregards the values and underlying principles that guide those wants. Ultimately, this limits creativity and drives a ‘winner and loser’ negotiation where one achieves the end goal, or they are unsatisfied with the result. By working to identify underlying values, more creativity can produce deeper and far reaching results for many more parties. This step supports the notion that the resources available could be much larger than, creating a ‘bigger pie.’ In a peri-developed country in the process of rebuilding, acknowledging common goals and understandings can have a far-reaching impact beyond the realm of water.

Accountability Accountability from within and outside the country is important to build trust in the process of any agreement. Being held to agreements and priorities is vital in a country where skepticism between stakeholders is rampant. A non-partisan third party with authority over all stakeholders is necessary to make this achievable. Establishing this outside party would prove difficult, as neutrality is scarce, especially within a single nation, but an outside party that is able to cut through local and national politics would be vital to the process.

  1. ^ U.N. Statistics Division Data, Accessed online January 2013. Online: and U.N. World Statistics Pocketbook, 2013 edition
  2. ^ 2.0 2.1 (Haddadin)
  3. ^ 3.0 3.1 Berkoff, J. (1994). “A strategy for managing water in the Middle East and North Africa”. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, The World Bank, Washington D.C., USA.
  4. ^ For more information on rivers and estimated flows, see: Ministry of Environment/LEDO. Lebanon State of the Environment Report, Chapter 8: Water. 2001 Online:
  5. ^ Edgell, Karst and hydrogeology of Lebanon. H.S. Carbonates and Evaporites September 1997, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 220-235
  6. ^ 6.0 6.1 El-Fadel, M., M. Zeinati, and D. Jamali. “Water Resources in Lebanon: Characterization, Water Balance and Constraints.” International Journal of Water Resources Development 16.4 (2000): 615–638. Web. 9 Nov. 2013.
  7. ^ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 El-fadel, M, M Zeinati, and D Jamali. “Water Resources Management in Lebanon : Institutional Capacity and Policy Options.” 3 (2001): 425–448. Print.
  8. ^ Bou-Zeid, E; M El-Fadel. Climate Change and Water Resources in Lebanon and the Middle East. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management. 2002.
  9. ^ Shaaban, Amin. "Indicators and aspects of hydrological drought in Lebanon." Water resources management 23.10 (2009): 1875-1891.
  10. ^ Assaf, Hamed, and Mark Saadeh. “Assessing Water Quality Management Options in the Upper Litani Basin, Lebanon, Using an Integrated GIS-Based Decision Support System.” Environmental Modelling & Software 23.10-11 (2008): 1327–1337. Web. 9 Nov. 2013.
  11. ^ BBC News Middle East. Lebabnon Profile. Version 11:38 ET 31 December 2013. Accessed January 2013. Online:
  13. ^ Amnesty International. "Lebanon Exiled and suffering: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon". 2007. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  14. ^ UNRWA. "Where We Work". 2013. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  15. ^ ANERA. Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon. Vol. 3. 2012. Print.
  16. ^ 16.0 16.1 UNHCR. Syria regional analysis. November 9, 2013.
  17. ^ Syria Needs Assessment Project, ACAPS. Lebanon Baseline Information. 2013. Print.

Facts about "Regular Complexities: Lebanon's Water Issues"RDF feed
Area10,500 km² (4,054.05 mi²) +
ClimateArid/desert (Köppen B-type) + and Dry-summer +
Geolocation33° 53' 19.064", 35° 29' 43.7258"Latitude: 33.8886289
Longitude: 35.4954794
IssueStrained Water Access + and Water Governance +
Key QuestionHow can government be dis/incentivized to offer an inclusive planning process? +, How do national policies influence water use at the local level? + and How can consultation and cooperation among stakeholders and development partners be better facilitated/managed/fostered? +
Land Useagricultural- cropland and pasture + and industrial use +
NSPDWater Quantity +, Water Quality +, Governance + and Ecosystems +
Population4.2 million +
RiparianLebanon +
Stakeholder TypeFederated state/territorial/provincial government +, Sovereign state/national/federal government +, Local Government +, Industry/Corporate Interest + and Community or organized citizens +
Water UseAgriculture or Irrigation +, Domestic/Urban Supply + and Industry - consumptive use +
Has subobjectThis property is a special property in this wiki.Regular Complexities: Lebanon's Water Issues +, Regular Complexities: Lebanon's Water Issues + and Regular Complexities: Lebanon's Water Issues +