Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Unregulated private sources & more

Unregulated private sources of water supply

Incomplete network coverage, water rationing and other shortfalls in the public water supply system have led many Lebanese to take matters into their own hands and seek their own solutions to water supply. Unlicensed wells across the country extract around 176 MCM/yr of water. Domestic users also regularly buy water gallons, water tankers and water bottles, which often make up respectively 35%, 21% and 16% of total household expenditure on water.[1] These practices and the absence of effective regulation and law enforcement are accelerating the depletion of water resources. In addition, the cost of this water is much higher: on average, water from tanker trucks costs $3-6 per m3 compared to $0.4 per m3 from public domestic water supply.[2] Moreover, there is a real risk to public health since private providers of drinking water are often unlicensed: a large inspection campaign by the Ministry of Public Health in 2014 found that there were around 800 unlicensed drinking water companies operating in Lebanon and that 90% of the water they supplied did not meet health standards for drinking water.[3]

Figure 4. Planned agricultural projects. Source: Fanack after MEW, 2010 and Plan Bleu/ECODIT, 2014.
Figure 4. Planned agricultural projects. Source: Fanack after MEW, 2010 and Plan Bleu/ECODIT, 2014.

Agricultural water use and irrigation development

The total agricultural area under cultivation in Lebanon, whether irrigated or rainfed, is estimated at 230,000 ha. Agricultural land is concentrated in the Bekaa (42.1 %) and North Lebanon (27.2%), according to the latest agricultural census of 2010. Around half of the cultivated area (112,900 ha) is irrigated. The major part is irrigated using gravity or furrow irrigation (70.4%), the rest using sprinkler and drip irrigation techniques.[4] Most land is irrigated with surface water (44.4%); 22.2% is irrigated with groundwater and the rest with mixed sources.[5] The agricultural demand for irrigation was estimated at 9,000 m3/ha/yr in 2010, with plans to reduce this quantity to 7,000-8,000 m3/ha/yr by 2035 if new water-saving irrigation techniques are introduced.[6]

The government has planned several agricultural schemes over the coming years, including the modernization of agricultural infrastructure, rehabilitation of networks and increase of agricultural water supply. According to the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), the implementation of irrigation projects will increase the irrigated area by 36,000-50,000 ha over the next 30 years.[7] The main projects are located in the south Bekaa and southern Lebanon (Fig. 4). One of the largest planned projects, which is expected to be operational by 2017,[8] is the Canal 800 conveyor project[9] that would mobilize 120 MCM of water and convey 90 MCM annually by gravity from Lake Qaraoun to irrigate around 15,000 ha of land east of the Litani River (Marjayoun region) and further down to South Lebanon (Nabatiyeh, Bint Jbeil).[10]

Nahr Ibrahim River, Lebanon. Photo: Rabih.
Nahr Ibrahim River, Lebanon. Photo: Rabih.

[1] Ministry of the Environment, 2011.
[2] MEW, 2010; Ministry of Energy and Water et al., 2012.
[3] The Daily Star, 2014a.
[4] FAO, 2012; CAS, 2012.
[5] Ministry of the Environment and UNDP, 2011.
[6] MEW, 2010.
[7] CDR, 2013a.
[8] Business News Lebanon, 2015.
[9] CDR, 2013a. Under the CDR, co-funded by the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) and Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD).
[10] In addition to providing 20 MCM annually of drinking water.