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Exclusive – Lebanese Govt. Failures Transform Litani River into Polluted Dump

Exclusive – Lebanese Govt. Failures Transform Litani River into Polluted Dump

Monday, 3 September, 2018 - 09:30
Pollution in the Litani River. (NNA)
Beirut - Nazeer Rida
Lebanon’s Litani River Authority sent dozens of legal warnings to factories and municipalities over their dumping of waste and sewage in the county’s longest river. A video posted by the Authority and circulated on social media showed how the river was being transformed into a polluted dump.

Failure to address this problem can be blamed on successive government negligence and waste of water resources. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that farmers are no longer using the river for their irrigation.

Pleas sent to the government since 2016 have failed in saving the river.

The 170-km long Litani crosses through 20 percent of Lebanese territory. It starts from the eastern Bekaa region and ends in the Mediterranean in the South. In addition to the waste being dumped into it, its banks have also been polluted by trash and dotted by construction violations. Furthermore, the over-use of its water for irrigation has led to a drop in its levels.

Lebanon approved in April a law to protect the Litani waters, but the violations have persisted, as have the warnings. Speaker Nabih Berri even highlighted the issue during his weekly meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday. He stressed the need to implement the water law and persecute the violators.

The parliamentary public works, transportation, energy and water committee is set to convene later this week to take the necessary decisions over the Litani.

Head of the Litani River Authority Sami Alawieh told Asharq Al-Awsat that telephone calls have not ceased from the sides who have been received complaints over their violations.

The files have since been sent to the judiciary “and it alone resolves this issue,” he stressed.

He vowed to continue his mission “until the end” to ensure that the wrongs against the people have been righted.

“The only salvation lies in implementing the Lebanese laws,” Alawieh said.

Power plants under threat

Four hydroelectric power plants have been constructed on the river and they are now all facing the possibility of being shut down due to the drop in water levels. Irrigation and fish farms along the river are also being threatened due to its pollution. Touristic sites along its banks have also been affected due to a drop in river levels.

Previous governments have made proposals on the need to clean up the Litani and its basin, but ultimately, the problem can only be solved by addressing the reasons that have left the environment in such a dire state.

Alawieh noted that the authorities approved a $70 million plan in 2016 to implement various projects on the Litani over a seven-year period. They include a sewage treatment plant and cleaning the lower and upper basins of the river. Indeed, he said, the Council for Development and Reconstruction has already kicked off work in these projects.

He noted, however, that studies on the sewage treatment plants were not thoroughly planned and the plants that have already started operation are not functioning properly enough to tackle the problems.

Moreover, there are delays in launching the construction of the remaining plants, he revealed.

“Even the construction of these plants have compounded the problem,” lamented Alawieh.

Proposals have been made to municipalities to take temporary measures to treat their sewage until permanent ones are found, he said.

Sewage and garbage

Alawieh remarked, however, that even these proposals were faced with hurdles, leading him to assert that the problem cannot be solved as long as the violations on the Litani remain.

“They must be ceased immediately,” he stressed.

These violations include garbage dumps that have been set up near the river basin or the river itself. Municipalities have also dumped their sewage in the river and dug arbitrary irrigation wells. Untreated industrial waste has also been dumped there.

Ministries, said Alawieh, should also be blamed for their lenient approach in addressing the problem. He singled out former Environment Minister Mohammed al-Mashnouq’s decision to simply extend deadlines to violators to resolve their transgressions.

Instead of sending warnings to factories at fault, they should have been forced to shut down their operations, he added. The Environment Ministry at the time claimed that it does not have the authority to close factories, saying that the government alone enjoyed such a power.

Legal warning have been sent by the Litani River Authority through the judiciary and great efforts have been exerted, through the cooperation of the security forces station in the Bekaa city of Zahle, to crackdown on factory violations, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He also urged the Environment Ministry to “rectify the decision” taken by Mashnouq.

The solution, he explained, calls for the ministries of industry, environment and energy and the Council for Development and Reconstruction to devise a time-frame for the implementation of the Litani projects in order to speed up their execution.

According to the law, the Litani River Authority does not have the power to crackdown on violations, which forced it to resort to the judiciary, Alawieh said.

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