Clean and Continuous Water for 1.6 Million People in Lebanon

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The Water Supply Augmentation Project, led by the Lebanese government, aims to increase the volume of water available to the Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon area where approximately half of the Lebanese population lives. The Project is financed by the World Bank, Islamic Development Bank and Government of Lebanon. In this Q&A, Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank Regional Director, for the Middle East, explains the importance of the Bisri Dam project for resolving Beirut’s long-lasting water shortage problem.

Q 1: Why is there a need for a dam in Bisri?  Who will benefit from it?

SKJ: The Bisri Dam will resolve one major problem that Lebanon’s residents have faced since the civil war: severe and chronic water shortages.

Over 1.6 million people living across the Greater Beirut & Mount Lebanon (GBML), including 460,000 living on less than $4 a day, will have improved access to clean water.  Once the dam is built, households will be able to depend on the public water network and will no longer need to rely on alternative water sources. They will hence see substantial reductions in their household water expenditures.

Q 2: What is the dam storage capacity? Will the water be treated before reaching households?

SKJ: It is worthwhile to note that the Bisri Dam will capture rainwater that is normally flowing to the sea and will allow Lebanon to store the water in winter to be used during the dry season, when people need water the most.

The Bisri Dam will be constructed immediately upstream of the village of Bisri on the Bisri river. It will store 125 million cubic meters of water, and will fill up naturally in the winter and spring for use during the summer and fall. Without pumping, the water will flow to the GBML area entirely by gravity. It will go through a 26-kilometer underground tunnel, treated through the Ouardaniyeh water treatment plant, and distributed though networks that are currently being rehabilitated as part of the Greater Beirut Water Supply Project.  

Q 3: How long will it take for the dam to be built?

SKJ: Construction of the dam will take about five years from the signing of the contract.

Q 4: Will the Bisri Dam be safe?

SKJ: Thank you for this question.  Yes, the Bisri Dam will be safe.

The Government of Lebanon designed the Bisri Dam per the state-of-the-art seismic hazard assessment and design. An independent panel of international experts has reviewed the design of the dam and the geological studies and confirmed that it is safe.

These are internationally renowned technical experts in dam engineering, geology, and seismology who have worked on dams around the world, including dams located in seismic areas. In short, they confirmed that the Bisri Dam is designed to withstand the worst earthquakes and it will not in itself trigger them.  Also, the Bisri Dam will be equipped with seismic monitoring instruments that will continuously monitor the structure of the dam.

Q 5: How will local communities be affected by the Bisri Dam?

SKJ: The project was designed according to international best practice in reducing the impacts on local communities. Those who will be impacted by the project are entirely accounted for and measures are put in place to ensure that their livelihoods are sustained and concerns are addressed.

The expropriation of land is ongoing and affects 861 landowners of which only 96 live in the area and rely on the land partially for their income and livelihood. Land owners are provided cash compensation calculated at replacement cost in accordance with the World Bank’s policies. Additional assistance will be provided to help restore incomes and rehabilitate livelihoods as needed.

A comprehensive Resettlement Action Plan was developed and details the process through which land expropriation and resettlement is being undertaken. The document was consulted widely with the landowners and their representatives, and is publicly disclosed and available at www.cdr.gov.lb

Q 6: Will the Bisri Dam affect the rich biodiversity in the region?

SKJ: This is an important question. Mitigating the impacts on biodiversity is a key priority of this project.

A detailed action plan was put in place. It is based on a biodiversity survey covering all major taxa, including amphibians, reptiles and macro-invertebrates, as well as location and habitat usage information for flora, mammals, birds and fish. The objective is to fully compensate for biodiversity impacts by having an ecological offset for the habitats that will be lost under the reservoir, through translocating some of the species, conserving or strengthening existing natural habitats. These offsets will be designed in a way that the biodiversity result of the Bisri Dam is ideally with “net gains” and at the minimum with “no loss”.

A specialized team of environmental experts is working closely with the Ministry of Environment to monitor the implementation of the Environment and Social Management Plan which was also publicly disclosed and is available at www.cdr.gov.lb.

Q7: What is planned for the cultural and archeological sites in the area?

SKJ: Having worked for a long time in Lebanon, the World Bank is very much aware of the prevalence and value of Lebanon’s cultural and archeological wealth. This is why we are supporting the Ministry of Culture in ensuring that the cultural and archeological sites are fully preserved. The Mar Moussa church and the remains of the Saint Sophia monastery will be relocated nearby and made accessible to parishioners and tourists, with the close oversight of the Maronite church authorities and parishioners. As for the archeological sites, they will be investigated and preserved with close coordination and supervision of the Directorate General of Antiquities. Archeological works will be financed by the project.

Q 8: Aren’t there simpler and cheaper ways to increase water supply to GBML?

SKJ: For decades, the Lebanese government, civil society, academia and their international partners have examined the most cost effective, sustainable and least impactful way to ensure safe drinking water to Lebanon’s residents. The Lebanese National Strategy for Water, which was based on a nationally-owned process, concluded that the construction of a dam at the Bisri site was one of the ways in which Lebanon can capture and utilize its water resources effectively.

Indeed, during the design of the project, the Government commissioned a detailed Analysis of Alternatives, which examined the technical, economic, environmental and social aspects of four dam options (Bisri, Janna, Damour East and Damour West) and several non-dam options, including improved groundwater management, desalination, demand management and treated wastewater reuse. The analysis showed that a combination of non-dam and dam actions was needed to increase the volume of water provided to the GBML on the long-term.

The Bank is working closely with various actors in the sector to support the implementation of several non-dam actions that are also critical to the full implementation of Lebanon’s water strategy.

Q 9: Why the focus on the Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon region?

SKJ: The Government of Lebanon has prioritized this project as a way to ensure that 1.6 million people living in the Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon area have improved access to safe and clean water.  Meanwhile, the Bank is also working closely with the Government across many sectors and across the entire territory of Lebanon. We are supporting the environment, transport, health, education and social protection sectors across Lebanon, including those areas that are directly impacted by the large influx of Syrian refugees.

Q 10: Was civil society involved in the process? Were their concerns taken into account?

Absolutely. During preparation and implementation, between April 2012 and May 2017, 28 public meetings and focused group discussions were conducted with beneficiaries, project-affected persons, NGOs and civil society groups. Meetings were announced through local newspapers, and several representatives from NGOs and civil society groups attended the sessions.

Mitigating environmental and social risks during the construction and operation of dams is a high priority. An Environment and Social Impact Assessment was carried out in close collaboration with government agencies, civil society, the private sector and community members and has been approved by the Ministry of Environment. A detailed Resettlement Action Plan was also developed and details the process through which land expropriation and resettlement will be undertaken. Both documents were publicly disclosed and are available at www.cdr.gov.lb

Q 11: Would you like to add anything else?

SKJ: Yes. The Lebanese government has been considering the Bisri Dam project for over 30 years and it is a crucial part of Lebanon’s National Water Strategy. For our part, the World Bank aims to support this pro-poor project and we will supervise its implementation very closely to ensure it meets the highest international standards.