A delegation led by the World Bank visited an ongoing system of tunnels and pipes being drilled to transport fresh water from the Awali River in south Lebanon to Beirut as part of a project the organization is funding. The undertaking, expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and financed by the World Bank, aims to provide a sustainable potable water supply to residents of the capital, including its southern and northern suburbs and coastal villages in the districts of Aley, Baabda and Metn.
“The Middle East is one of the driest regions and a major hotspot in terms of water security,” Guang Zhe Chen, World Bank senior director of the Global Water Practice, told The Daily Star during the visit.
“In Beirut, a growing population of locals and refugees is increasingly relying on scarce water resources from the north [of Lebanon].”
The project, which consists of several components including a series of tunnels, water treatment plants, reservoirs and a distribution network, aims to solve Beirut’s chronic water shortages and ensure an additional daily potable water supply of 250,000 cubic meters.
The system of tunnels is set to transport water from the Awali River, which flows from its source in the Chouf mountains down into the Mediterranean near Sidon, to three central reservoirs in the Beirut area.
According to Chen, the organization has been working for several years in partnership with the government to make the “dream” of a sustainable water supply for Beirut a reality. “We have provided the finances, however we are a partner to the government and we want it to take the ownership of the project,” Chen said.
The construction of a two-section, 24-kilometer, $200-million water conveyor tunnel was also financed by the World Bank and is being built by Italian contractor Cooperativa Muratori and Cementisti di Ravenna. According to the Italian Embassy in Lebanon, which joined Monday’s visit with representatives of the World Bank, the project is the biggest project of this kind for Italy in Lebanon. Italian Ambassador Massimo Marotti said it is a “point of pride [for Italy] and an occasion to explore new opportunities for collaborations between Italian and Lebanese companies elsewhere in the region.”
At present, a team of 260 workers are constructing the water conveyor tunnel, which is expected to be completed in 2019. This will include a 4-kilometer tunnel for untreated water from the Chouf town of Joun to a new water treatment plant being built nearby in Wardanieh, and a treated-water tunnel from Wardanieh to the Metn town of Khaldeh approximately 20 kilometers away.
The Wardanieh water treatment plant is set to be built over two phases. The first, currently under construction by the Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Establishment, aims to provide some 250,000 cubic meters per day.
A second phase will be constructed under another World Bank-financed project – the Water Supply Augmentation Project (Bisri Project) – and will increase the total project’s flow to 500,000 cubic meters per day.
According to Randa Daher, project director of the Greater Beirut Water Supply Project at the World Bank, the final goal is to guarantee 24/7 water availability to the Greater Beirut area, where water is now rationed and available for three hours per day. “We will also provide water to refugee camps [in the outskirts of Beirut], but distribution will be managed by [the relevant] U.N. agencies,” Daher told The Daily Star.
The water system is set to become fully functional by 2022, when the treatment plants and distribution network will be completed with additional funding by the World Bank. This will include the construction of three central water bulk storage reservoirs along with a pipeline connecting the reservoirs in both the Bsharri area of Hadath and the Baabda area of Hazmieh near Beirut.
The project also foresees the expropriation of 570 hectares of land in the proximity of the Bisri Dam, which lies in between the Jezzine and Chouf districts. According to figures provided by a representative of Lebanon’s Council for Development and Reconstruction, 30 percent of the designated land on the side of Jezzine and 70 percent on the side of the Chouf are being acquired from land owners.
This concerns around 100 families living in the area and around 900 who own land. Among those living in the area are Syrian refugees who will be moved to nearby camps with the assistance of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.
Representatives from both the World Bank and the CDR stressed that all people concerned will receive adequate compensation, including monetary reimbursement and water supplies to develop their activities and increase land values.
The realization of the Greater Beirut Water Supply Project is regarded as a necessary step following the growth of Beirut’s population, which is expected to reach 1.9 million residents – approximately 40 percent of Lebanon’s population – by 2035.
In 2016, Lebanon saw less-than-average rainfall, leading to frequent water shortages. As future forecasts expect average rainfall to remain low in the coming decades, redistributing the water available in other parts of Lebanon is seen as one of the only options to relieve the capital of its persistent water problems.