Lebanon panel takes on Litani River pollution

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Lebanon's Litani River flows into the Qaraoun Lake basin. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

Lebanon's Litani River flows into the Qaraoun Lake basin. [Nohad Topalian/Al-Mashareq]

Lebanese lawmakers have been working to address the continuing problem of the Litani River's pollution as part of efforts to find a permanent and workable solution.

During an August 28th meeting, Lebanese MP Nazih Najm, who chairs the parliamentary public works, transport, energy and water committee, said efforts will continue until a high committee is formed to find a permanent solution.

The Litani is the longest river in Lebanon -- 170 kilometres -- and has a capacity of about 750 million cubic metres per annum from rainfall and from Bekaa Valley tributaries that feed into it.

Its water powers hydroelectric projects and other irrigation initiatives that feed agricultural land in the western Bekaa Valley, the south and in the coastal plain.

The parliamentary committee "hopes to form a high committee to address the pollution problem, and another to administer the Litani basin, so we have real follow up on the implementation of the solution", Najm said.

The government of former Prime Minister Tammam Salam took a step towards addressing river pollution by enacting Law No. 63/2016, he told Al-Mashareq.

It allocated 101 billion Lebanese pounds ($67 million) to tackling violations and the construction of sewage and industrial wastewater treatment plants.

The remedial plan "provides for monitoring the quality of the required work and accountability, and also the formation of a high committee to monitor implementation, exert pressure on factories and municipalities, and find solutions that eliminate the encroachments on the river", Najm said.

"The implementation of the plan must be accompanied by the state fulfilling its duties towards the residents of those towns by establishing projects that address the root cause of the problem, such as treatments plants," he added.

River pollution remedy

The government's plan to address Litani River pollution is to be implemented in three phases: addressing immediate and quick solutions, then medium-term solutions and finally a long-term sustainable solution phase.

The plan specifies the agency responsible for the implementation, follow up and monitoring of every phase and procedure, and calls for addressing the Litani’s upper basin in the Bekaa Valley, which is the biggest source of the river’s pollution.

The initial phase of the plan calls for "inspecting sewage outfalls with the municipalities and prohibiting the discharge of sewage directly into the river" until the construction of treatment plants is completed.

Outfalls would be diverted to areas that would be planted with sugar cane, a crop that has been studied in connection with wastewater management.

The plan prohibits the extension of new sewage networks to areas that do not have treatment plants, and requires that septic tanks constructed for residential units be emptied, and the contents be transported to treatment plants.

For solid waste, the plan recommends the implementation of the action plan related to transfer, sorting and composting stations, as well as landfills that need to be expanded or built. It also recommends the closure and rehabilitation of some dumps and that others be altered to meet environmental standards.

For the third major source of river pollution, agricultural pesticides, the plan stresses the need to build and enhance capacities in the areas of pesticide management, plant nutrition and quality preservation.

It also calls for the use of effective and environment-friendly irrigation methods.

Temporary solutions

Encroachments along the river "have caused the upper basin of the river to turn into a sewage, industrial and hospital waste line", said Litani River Authority director general Sami Alawiya.

After many years of exposure, the river's waters have become highly contaminated, he told Al-Mashareq.

Lake Qaraoun, which is fed by the Litani River, has been contaminated by water mixed with sewage and industrial waste water entering from the river, he said.

The source of the pollution is 227 factories, industrial plants, business entities, farms and slaughterhouses whose contaminated water is diverted into the river, he said, as is the sewage of the towns and villages on its banks.

What is urgently required today is "the implementation of the plan previously developed by the Lebanese government", Alawiya said.

In the meantime, it is necessary "to end the municipalities’ violations on the river with the implementation of temporary solutions for the sewage until a permanent solution is found", he said.

There also needs to be a stoppage to the indiscriminate construction and drilling of artesian wells, he added.

"The river is of great importance as a major source of Lebanon's water wealth, as it supplies the Bekaa and the south with water and it is a major source of water for irrigation and power generation," Alawiya said.

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