Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lebanon’s drought needs long-term solutions

IRIN: ...The country has been severely affected by drought this winter - with rainfall less than half the previous year, according to the Lebanese meteorological authority. Mohammed Qabbani, an MP who heads the Energy and Water Committee in the Lebanese parliament, thinks water shortages will be nationwide in the coming months.

“This year [the effect] is very big and if we have the same conditions for next year it will be catastrophic. We will start feeling it [the drought] in July and August and we will have shortages,” he says. “They will be for the whole of Lebanon.”

...While agricultural production has already been badly hit, the effects of the drought on the rest of the Lebanese population are likely to be felt more acutely later in the year. The fact that the small country is now home to over one million Syrians fleeing the civil war over the border is likely to make the crisis even more severe. Dr Hassan El Bushra, head of the World Health Organization in Lebanon, recently said the lack of clean water meant outbreaks of communicable diseases such as polio and cholera are now “inevitable”.

Qabbani agrees that the potential for a public health crisis is acute. “We have not seen such a level of rain since 1932 and in that year the population was less than one million. Now we are four million, [as well as] more than one million Syrians. They all nee
d to drink,” he adds.

...While the drought is short-term, the country’s inability to utilize its water resources stretches back decades. Lebanon has the highest amount of rainfall per capita in the Middle East, with an average of 8 billion cubic metres a year.

Yet leakage - the water that is lost in the system through broken pipes and wastage - is so common that up to half of collected water is lost. Even in good years, residents of major cities face shortages, while Blue Gold, a new civil society body pushing for reform of the country’s water networks, estimates that just 17 percent of all the country’s rainfall is utilized....

Qaraoun Lake in Lebanon, shot by Fouad Awada, public domain

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