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Shared Water Resources

The Nahr el-Kebir River in Lebanon, which is plagued by water hyancinth. Photo: Joelle Comair.Lebanon shares surface and groundwater with its two neighbours, Syria and Israel. The main characteristics of the country’s shared rivers – the Orontes (Al-Assi), the Nahr el Kabir and the Hasbani – are presented in Table 3. Lebanon also shares groundwater with both countries, though there is little information available on the Western Galilee Basin that is shared with Israel. Lebanon ratified the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses in 1999 and uses its principles as a baseline for its bilateral agreements on water.

Orontes (Al-Assi) River

The Orontes or Al-Assi River rises from the Hermel Mountain(s) in the northern Bekaa region of Lebanon, flows northwards through Syria to discharge in the Mediterranean Sea after crossing into Turkey. It is mainly fed by groundwater that originates from snowmelt in Mount Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon. Its main sources are the Al-Labweh, Ain Zarqa (main flow contributor) and Daffash Springs in the Bekaa Valley. Water use in the Lebanese part of the basin is estimated at 21 MCM/yr, and consists of small-scale farming, fish farms and tourism. It is also a popular area for rafting.[1]

Developed in consultation with the Syrian government, the Assi scheme aims to develop water resources in the basin for irrigation, domestic use and hydropower. It consists of the construction of a 27 MCM diversion dam near the Ain Zarqa Spring with three pumping stations and an irrigation network for around 3,000 ha (Phase I), and a 37 MCM dam upstream of the Hermel Bridge to irrigate 3,800 ha as well as a hydroelectric power plant to provide 50 MW/day (Phase II) in the regions of Hermel and Al-Qaa.[2] A Chinese contractor working with a local partner started construction work on the dam (Phase I) in 2005, but the site was bombed by Israel during the 2006 war. This led to a dispute between the Lebanese government and the contractor on compensation for losses. After a special committee was formed in 2011 to address the issue, the Lebanese Council of Ministers renegotiated the work terms to meet the contractor’s demands, and the new contract is currently being finalized.[3] In addition to the planned development schemes, Lebanon has solicited international donors for assistance in water monitoring in the basin. Most recently the Italian Cooperation installed meteorological stations for data collection.[4]

In terms of agreements, Syria and Lebanon announced in 1972 that they had signed an agreement whereby Lebanon would use about 80 MCM/yr, but this agreement never came into force. In 1976 Syria became actively engaged in military activities in Lebanon and occupied positions near the headwaters of the Orontes so that water use from the river was strictly under Syrian control. It was not until September 1994 that the two countries officially signed an agreement granting Lebanon 80 MCM/yr on the condition that the river’s resources within Lebanon reached at least 400 MCM/yr.[5] This agreement was, however, not considered favourable to Lebanon, and an amendment was effected in 1997 which identified and excluded the four sub-basins of Yammouneh, Marjhine, Jabal al-Homr and Orghosh as well as the Labweh Spring from Lebanon’s 80 MCM/yr share, thus allowing the population to use its waters for irrigation.[6] As Syria’s power over Lebanon started to recede, a further amendment was added in 2001 allowing Lebanon to construct a dam on the river.

Table 3. Main characteristics of shared rivers in Lebanon. Source: UN-ESCWA and BGR, 2013; Holst-Warhaft, G. and Steenhuis, T., 2010. Losing Paradise: The Water Crisis in the Mediterranean. Published by Ashgate; FAO, 2009.
Table 3. Main characteristics of shared rivers in Lebanon. Source: UN-ESCWA and BGR, 2013; Holst-Warhaft, G. and Steenhuis, T., 2010. Losing Paradise: The Water Crisis in the Mediterranean. Published by Ashgate; FAO, 2009.


[1] The Daily Star, 2011.
[2] Data from the Ministry of Energy and Water in Lebanon, 2002. Al-Assi Dam and Al-Qaa-Hermel Irrigation Project Report Issued by the General Directorate of Hydraulic and Electric Resources in Lebanon.
[3] Ministry of Energy and Water, 2015. Personal communication.
[4] UNESCO, 2015. Science Diplomacy and Trans-boundary Water Management: The Orontes River Case.
[5] Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council, 1994.
[6] Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council, 1997.