Lebanon: 45 Days of No Rain Hits Farmers and Residents

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Current demands for water are almost 900 million cubic meters per year, including 630 million cubic meters for agriculture. (Al-Akhbar).

By: Abdel Kafi al-Samad, Danny al-Amin

Published Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A water crisis is on the horizon in Lebanon. Last year’s rainfall didn’t exceed 15 percent the average rate, and the cost of well water has increased. Some Lebanese are starting to pray for rain.

It looks like Lebanese will be facing a water crisis this spring and summer due to unprecedented scarcity in rainfall. The country’s rainiest month, January, was no different than the summer. Now, it has been 45 days without rain.

Until January 21, rainfall rates in Lebanon had failed to reach the normal yearly average, according to meteorological figures at Beirut's international airport. Rainfall in the capital should have been 440 millimeters at this time of year, but only 237.8 millimeters were recorded. In Central Bekaa, the average reached 128 millimeters, compared to an average of 435 in previous years. In the north, it reached 340.9 millimeters, compared to 454.

Precipitation is necessary to replace underground water in Lebanon and to meet residents’ needs. The supply is created by rainfall and snow, then extracted through several methods, from artesian wells to surface water. Thus, the decline in precipitation, surface area covered in snow, and reduced snow layers will lead to a decrease in underground and surface water.

If the level of precipitation remains low in February and March, it will lead to a crisis of water scarcity. Surface water will not be enough to meet demands, and consumers will have to replace it with underground water, which will dry up quickly. Meanwhile, there are no official figures on increased water demand due to the influx of Syrian refugees, who represent around a quarter of the indigenous population. Assuming water consumption is the same as the population's, the demand will increase by 25 percent.

According to a study conducted by Mohammed Fawaz, an expert on the issue, current demands for water are almost 900 million cubic meters per year, including 630 million cubic meters for agriculture. Since precipitation decreased drastically this winter, everyone is expecting a large deficit in water supplies, whether for service, drinking, or irrigation.

Climate Change

"It is a period of real shortage, and we are very worried about it today. We hope to avoid this situation if the shortage is compensated by rainfall during the remainder of January and the coming months of February and March," said Kamal Mawloud, head of Tripoli's water authority. He described this period as "an unprecedented development in climate change. I have never seen such a drought in my 30 years in the authority."

Mawloud said, "In 1999, we had weather similar to today's. However, the complete lack of rainfall in January, like today, has never occurred. Light rainfall would occur, usually compensated for in February and March."

According to Mawloud, the phenomenon "is not normal at all, and we are not used to it. It is an exceptional period in every sense of the word and is due, without doubt, to climate change, which is beginning to impact our country."

Water Mafias

In the south, water catchment wells in the towns of Marjeyoun and Bint Jbeil have dried up, coinciding with the disruption of the main power transformer, which provides electricity to the water pumping station that services more than 20 villages.

This situation prompted an explosion of demand for well water. All of a sudden, the cost of a small quantity of water rose to 40,000 Lebanese lira ($27). "This is only enough for one week, meaning that each family has to pay 200,000 lira ($133) a month to cover its needs of service water," said Hassan Hamdan from Mais al-Jabal.

He said, "People from these towns used to depend of rainwater and al-Taybeh project's water, which was never interrupted in the winter. However, what is happening today is unusual. Farmers are expecting a bad agricultural season."

Lack of water is not the main reason for the malfunction of the electrical generator. According to a worker at the Litani water authority, "More than 10 towns in the region are dependent on the plant, which has to pump more than 8,000 cubic meters of water a day, which is a very high load."

Due to the disruption of the transformer, the Lebanese electrical company was forced to secure alternative power to the towns supplied by the plant, in addition to the Soltanieh transformer. Naturally, this led to an increase in rationing in the region. "The weak electrical current leads to ruining many electrical appliances," said Ahmad Zahwe from Majdal Silm.

Praying for Rain

Lack of precipitation led many in the south to seriously think about praying for rain. The people of Houla started a "shish balli" campaign for rain, where residents of the town, old and young, walk through the neighborhoods chanting for an end to the drought. "Shish balli, shish balli, we will not leave before it is filled," they chant.

They go door to door requesting donations from the poor. If a donation is received, they chant, "Put a sponge over a sponge, the homemaker is clean." If a donation is not received, they chant, "Put the wheat over the barley, the homemaker is poor." The march is repeated several times, "until the people return soaked in rain water."

Houla's elderly residents said that rain prayers are difficult because they require that all residents come together in a specific area, along with their sheep and other animals, to hold a prayer with a respected imam. This way, it is easier to practice the "shish balli."

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

This article highlights mainly on the repercussions of water scarcity in Lebanon. Figures and numbers of rainfall of different years were mentioned to emphasize on the drastic problem we're facing. Not only water demand is threatened, but also electricity, agriculture and other economic sectors. We're paying more to buy a bottle of water, poverty will increase consequently. Climate change has greatly influenced on rainfall in our country. This decrease should be an alarm bell to all of us to start acting towards decreasing its effects. The arctile points out the major problem, however it fails to list the solution. It's up to us then to seek for the solutions in order to avoid the bitter consequences.

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