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Mount Lebanon and Water, A Threatened Bond
Posted on Mar 24, 2021 |
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Thanks to its remarkable water wealth, Mount Lebanon has a strong link with water, a determining factor of its identity, threatened today by many environmental issues. A quick tour in the Mohafazat would remind us of the important role water played in shaping the landscape itself. In Tannourine, the Baatara Gorge, 250m deep and 260m wide, is entirely carved into the limestone by water. At the entrance of the Tannourine Cedars reserve, a beautiful hoodoo, sheltered beneath a majestic cedar of Lebanon, is another testimony of water’s work. A few kilometers further, the beautiful landscape of Kfar Helda waterfall in Batroun is yet again another display of the strong unobstructed water flow. In Feytroun, bizarre limestone rocks stand out in the landscape, a product of the slow erosion action of water.
the Author
Assistant Professor at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, Beirut
Mount Lebanon and Water, A Threatened Bond
©Adra Kandil

Thanks to its remarkable water wealth, Mount Lebanon has a strong link with water, a determining factor of its identity, threatened today by many environmental issues. A quick tour in the Mohafazat would remind us of the important role water played in shaping the landscape itself. In Tannourine, the Baatara Gorge, 250m deep and 260m wide, is entirely carved into the limestone by water. At the entrance of the Tannourine Cedars reserve, a beautiful hoodoo, sheltered beneath a majestic cedar of Lebanon, is another testimony of water’s work. A few kilometers further, the beautiful landscape of Kfar Helda waterfall in Batroun is yet again another display of the strong unobstructed water flow. In Feytroun, bizarre limestone rocks stand out in the landscape, a product of the slow erosion action of water.

All these natural manifestations, as well as many natural bridges and beautifully excavated grottos of Mount Lebanon attest to the presence of water in the region. But the governorate is also full of anthropogenic traces of the exploitation of water throughout history (wells, bridges, canals, etc.). The Aqueducts of Zbaydeh in Hazmieh are a fine example of conduits built on Lebanese territory. They bear witness to a particular architecture that ensured an easy flow of water to supply Beirut and its surroundings. The access to water has always been vital for growth. Therefore, ever since inhabitants arrived to Mount Lebanon, they gathered in towns and villages around the main rivers, giving them very evocative names. Diving into the names of towns and villages brings back a piece of the governorate’s history and attests, even more, the bond forged with water. Afqa means the flowing spring. El Barouk is named after a source of freshwater called “the blessed” where animals used to rest. Hazmieh means the guardian or protector of water. According to popular stories, el Dibbiyyi’s name is in fact "ayn el-debbé" (water source of the bear), in reference to the bear who made its home close to the village’s water source. El Laqlouq (the pearls) is a symbolism of the region’s water source shining under the rays of sunlight as if they were pearls. Jbeil means the well or the water source of God. Aintoura is the water source in the mountain. Nahr el dahab refers to the river turning golden brown in fall when the yellow leaves of Platanus orientalis tree fall into it. Etc. Some of the families who moved into these towns and villages, also held family names reminiscent of water, either because they arrived from areas rich in water, or because their first Lebanese ancestor had a profession related to water. Safi for example is an Arabic word referring to the purity and stillness of water. Rizk is a family name referring to the abundance of rain. Akiki is an Arabic word referring to the valley carved by a stream.

These few examples embarked us backward through time, on the ancient bond between Mount Lebanon and water. Unfortunately, water in this Mohafazat is mismanaged and threatened by many pressures both on the quantity and quality aspects, menacing to transform the Mohafazat as we know it.

Quantity. Even though Mount Lebanon is a natural water tower with the highest flows in watercourses of the country, it faces water scarcity problems. In fact, water stress is generated by demographic growth, overexploitation, important fluxes of refugees, and unsustainable wasteful water use. And, because the share of freshwater is limited, unable to answer the high-water demand (Domestic, Industrial, irrigation) in the Mohafazat, the water balance is negative. Solutions to provide additional water on the short term must include dams, hill lakes, and recharge aquifers, all with respect to environmental requirements. We also need to reduce the estimated 50% water loss in the distribution systems and irrigation networks, with continuous infrastructure maintenance. In addition, a supervision of the uncontrolled drilling of wells is a necessity. On the longer term, integrated water management reforms must be applied, and the feasibility of using freshwater submarine springs should be studied, despite their estimated high cost.

Quality. All rivers in Mount Lebanon are recipients of significant waste discharge. Contamination with organic and inorganic pollutants is therefore an unfortunate reality, aggravated by the flash floods commonly witnessed in coastal river basins. These short and intense rain events are accentuated by land mismanagement, important slopes, and deforestation, which lead to important increase in the flow, significant erosion of particles, and pollutant fluxes. Short term solutions must include a better collection and treatment of wastewater and the development of coastal river observatories to follow up on the rivers’ state and react to threats as quickly as possible.

On a larger scale, a reorganization of the entire water sector along with investment plans would help improve governance. Then, the responsibilities of water stakeholders, especially Beirut Mount Lebanon Water Authority, should be enacted. Overall, there is a need to ensure a reform in the water sector, with practical and realistic objectives. Integrated Water Resource Management should be established and supported by water laws and legislations. Finally, a collective awareness along with cooperation are needed more than ever to save what is left of our identity.

To preserve Mount Lebanon, there is no time to waste! Water scarcity is a reality and would become worst if we do not react today. There really is not a more pressing issue for us, it is either we survive in our ancestors’ lands or we do not. The choice is ours.

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