Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Use in Lebanon

Photo 1: An artificial lake located inside Al-Shouf Cedar Reserve, which is used for irrigation (Source: Kameel Rayes)

Current water use per sector and analysis of possible deficit

The water demand per sector in Lebanon is still not well defined, although several estimates are available. This is mainly due to the lack of credible data and, in most cases, if this data exists, they are contradictory. However, water shortage is a significant problem that affects the country as a whole as well as particular sectors and water users. Different estimates put the water use per sector at between 12-32%, 8-18% and 60-70% for domestic, industrial and irrigation purposes, respectively. However, some studies put domestic use at 26%, industrial at 6% and irrigation at 72%,[1] highlighting just how much the estimates vary. It is important to note that the environmental flow and environmental water requirements to sustain the ecosystem are not considered in these estimates.[2] The water demand per sector as provided in the NWSS 2010 compared to the 2020 update is presented in Table 1.[2]

Table 1: Water demand per sector in the National Water Sector Strategy (NWSS) 2010, as compared to 2020.

SectorNWSS 2010NWSS 2020
Domestic (MCM)505350
Industrial (MCM)152350
Tourism (MCM)6350
Agriculture (MCM)810882
Total demand (MCM)1,4731,232
Population (million)4.43*4.8*
Per capita consumption (L/d)180*125*
Network efficiency (%)52*80*
Irrigated area (ha)90,000*105,000*
Irrigation consumption (m3/ha)9,000*8,400*
Industrial demand (% of domestic)30*20% of domestic*
Tourism demand (400 L/cap./d)400*20% of domestic*

(*) Assumptions for estimates.

Projected water use to 2050

The projected water use per sector is taken from the NWSS 2010, where it is expected to be 562, 169, 1,050 and 21 MCM/yr for the domestic, industrial, irrigation and tourism sectors respectively by 2035.[3] The NWSS 2020 presents the balance between the water supplied and the water needs by each regional water establishment (Table 2). All water establishments would still have a negative water balance in 2035, which is linked to supply inefficiencies and weak demand management.[2]

Table 2: Current and projected domestic water balance per water establishment, as presented in the National Water Sector Strategy 2020.[2]

Regional water establishmentVolume produced (MCM/yr) 2018Water balance (MCM/yr) 2020Water balance (MCM/yr) 2035
Beirut Mount Lebanon171-44.52-9.58

Agricultural water use and irrigation development

Globally, irrigated agriculture accounts for 70% of the total water withdrawals.[4] Agriculture in Lebanon is also considered the main water user. Based on the NWSS 2020, irrigation water demand is estimated at 882 MCM/yr, compared to 350 MCM/yr for domestic use, industry and tourism. Irrigation consumption is estimated to be 9,000 m3/ha, but there are plans to decrease this to 8,400 m3/ha by 2035. Out of the total land area, around 3,084 km2 is mapped as cultivated agricultural area covering both arable land and permanent crops.[2] The agriculture census in 2010 estimated the cultivated area to be around 2,909 km2 (23% of the total land area), half of which was thought to be irrigated. Since most agricultural plots are less than 1 ha, it is hard to implement advanced irrigation systems and technologies. That being said, most of the larger landowners have implemented drip irrigation and other water-saving methods, as they are mostly engaged in commercial agriculture and are generally export- and profit-oriented.[5]

[1] Shaban, A, 2017. Water Resources of Lebanon (chapter 2). Springer Cham.
[2] MoE (Ministry of Environment), 2020. Lebanon State of the Environment and Future Outlook: Turning the Crises into Opportunities (SoER 2020). With UNHCR, UNICEF and UNDP.
[3] MoEW (Ministry of Energy and Water), 2012. National Strategy for the Wastewater Sector, Beirut, Lebanon.
[4] The World Bank, 2020. Water in Agriculture.
[5] MoA (Ministry of Agriculture), 2020. Lebanon National Agriculture Strategy 2020-2025.