Lebanon: A Dim Light of Hope With the End of Bisri Dam

Pascale Sawma
Lebanese Journalist
September 7, 2020
The Bisri Dam project has finally been toppled, thanks to activists who refused to sleep and stuck to their guns, declining access to the building machinery into the valley that would launch the project. They fought for their valley, the health of their children, and for their life, the opposite of what the dam would have done for them.

The World Bank freezing the Bisri dam project has undeniably offered a dim light of hope that spread from the Bisri valley all over the shattered streets of Beirut following the deadly August 4th explosion. The World Bank’s decision was warmly received by the Lebanese, with loud celebrations reverberating everywhere around the country. Hundreds of trees that were endangered and fated to be cut down for the sake of building this dam full of politicians’ self-interests and benefits, laughed alongside the Lebanese who have been revolting since October 17.

Those are the people who were defeated by their authority thousands of times, the same authority who time and time again tried to quell, politicize, and nip their uprising in the bud. Those who were ravaged by hunger, unemployment, corruption, looting, suspicious projects, and deals that were made at their expense. The fall of the Bisri dam offered them some of their dignity back, and allowed them to turn the tables on their oppressors, who had for the longest time turned a blind eye towards the negative health, ecological and social impacts of this dam. These are people who finally feel happy, given the defeat of the powers that rule them, defeated because they lost one more profitable deal that would’ve siphoned even more money into their pockets. Their defeat was bitter, as they threatened those living around the valley that they would become thirsty soon enough, and return to beg them to build the dam.

It had never occurred to the corrupt officials of this authority that their people would refuse to drink polluted and carcinogenic water, due to its blending with the waters of Lake Qaraoun. It also did’t occur to them that young men and women protesting in Bisri valley would reverberate everywhere, and the World Bank and other entities would have to comply with the people’s will, not the whims of their rulers whose corruption is infamous.

Saada Alouh, an activist and head of the press department at legal agenda tells Daraj, “The abandoning of the work in Bisri Dam and the freezing of its funding is a victory for scientific contestation in the face of quotas and suspicious deals. Some experts have worked really hard to provide answers to the people about the dam, and to counteract every argument for it with scientific arguments against it, from the quality of the (carcinogenic and polluted) water to its insufficient quantities. This is besides the seismic dangers, ecological hazards and social change that would have been imposed by the building of the dam, and other matters.”

Alouh added, “Amid all these uninterrupted collapses, especially after the blast of Beirut’s port, the news about halting the building of the dam came as a sign of hope, that fighting back and scientific research will pay off despite this insolent and corrupt authority and their intertwined interests.”

Searching for Another Financial Source for the Dam!

This barefaced authority really did not like the fact that ecological safety and its advocates prevailed this time, and immediately began searching for other sources to finance the deadly project, which would cut down hundreds of thousands of trees, and render the area prone to seismic hazards. Most importantly, the water of the dam which the authority was about to force down the people of Beirut’s throats (especially the “Free Patriotic Movement” Party, the first advocate of this project), is in fact, carcinogenic water. Moreover, studies have shown that the quantities of water the people were promised were not realistic at all.

“The end of the dam came as a sign of hope, that fighting back and scientific research will pay off despite this insolent and corrupt authority and their intertwined interests.”

“We are now thinking about Plan (B) because we know that the parties in power will try to secure funding from elsewhere,”Alouh continues. “But it seems that this will be difficult, as who will finance a project that the World Bank has abandoned?”

The question now remains, what about the future of the Bisri valley? 

“We do not want the valley to turn into a mere nature reserve, we want to defend it as a vital facility that benefits the people of the region and contributes to achieving their food security,” Alouh answers.

“We are now thinking about Plan (B) because we know that the parties in power will try to secure funding from elsewhere,”Alouh continues. “But it seems that this will be difficult, as who will finance a project that the World Bank has abandoned?”

The question now remains, what about the future of the Bisri valley? 

“We do not want the valley to turn into a mere nature reserve, we want to defend it as a vital facility that benefits the people of the region and contributes to achieving their food security,” Alouh answers.

Where Will Beirut Get Its Water?

“The day will come when the Lebanese state and all the people of Beirut, Jezzine, Sidon, Chouf, Baabda, and Aley will demand funding for the Bisri Dam.” 

“There will be a dire need for water, and their crying over this spilled milk will not help them, and the only way out would be securing a new loan to retrieve the same dam.” 

With these words, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil threatened the Lebanese after the announcement of the freezing of the funding for the Bisri Dam.

Bassil’s tweet and other statements that were made following the World Bank’s decision, only indicated the authority’s desire to continue circumventing and sidetracking the issue. The sources of water that could reach Beirut and other areas are not impossible to find, and can be secured without resorting to destroying the environment and endangering people’s lives and health. Among these sources are: Greater Beirut springs and groundwater, as well as rehabilitating the same worn-out network and stopping its encroachment, in addition to the possibility of making use of the rainwater in which the city and its people are flooded with every winter without benefiting from it.

In an article published in the Legal Agenda, activist and engineer Roland Nassour refers to a study conducted by the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) on the protection of the Jeita watershed. This watershed feeds Greater Beirut with more than 70 percent of its water through the Jeita and Qashqosh springs as well as some wells. Part of the water from these sources is channeled, along with a portion of Antelias spring water, to the Dbayeh plant for treatment before distribution to Greater Beirut. The German Institute reports estimated that the drainage rate of the Jeita spring sits at 172 million m3 / year, the Qashqosh spring at 70 million m3 / year, and the Antelias spring at about 9 million m3 / year. The average drainage of these springs combined is about 251 million m3 / year, while their daily drainage rate ranges between 250,000 and one million and 540,000 m3 depending on the seasons.

However, the study showed that large amounts of water were wasted during the investment of those springs. The German Institute suggested developing the facilities of Jeita spring to derive water from it and establishing a new conveyor for the Jeita and Qashdosh springs with a capacity of 7 m3 / year, at a total cost that ranges between 30 and 50 million dollars, considered cheap when compared to the costs of the project that involves transferring water from the Awali River to Beirut (which amounts to one billion two hundred million US dollars). The German Institute reports stated that “The Jeita watershed can secure enough water for Greater Beirut, which is of excellent quality,” and added, “The investment would be more sustainable when directed towards protecting the water sources of Jeita spring, rather than transferring water from other sources that are far away from Beirut and more polluted.”

According to Nassour, large parts of the water network in Lebanon are worn-out and violated. According to the figures published by the Ministry of Energy and Water in 2010, the water waste rate had reached 48% in Lebanon in general and 40% in Greater Beirut in particular (about 42 million m3 / year). Some extensions of water lines in Beirut dated back to the French Mandate era, and are made of lead, which is not a suitable medium for transferring drinking water. Given the circumstances in Lebanon, no control and the prevalence of nepotism and corruption, some individuals and companies use the public network to steal water for commercial purposes. Therefore, there is a dire need to rehabilitate the network and put an end to the encroachment of it, to increase its effectiveness and minimize the need for more unnecessary projects.

There are clear and applicable alternatives for the Bisri dam. Those alternatives will definitely cost less than the dams and other suspicious projects, but, of course, they do not appeal to the ruling authority because they will not generate external money and cannot, therefore, be subjected to quotas and sectarian, partisan, and doctrinal division. Therefore, they have to resort to building dams and other elusive and devious methods which would ultimately result in uncompleted projects, or completed ones that are useless for the people and beneficial only for the politicians (who were its sponsors).

“The fall of the Bisri dam is yet another proof of the collapse of these quotas. The Bisri dam had represented the dominance of quotas and clientelism at the expense of society and the environment, which we are trying to fight,” Nassour tells Daraj. “It is also one of the largest projects that were on the table and required the largest loan. That’s why the fall of the Bisri dam is incredibly meaningful and symbolic in the context of rejecting these kinds of projects that do not prioritize the environmental, social, and health aspects of the country.”

“The fall of the Bisri dam gives us hope that the will of people can overthrow the projects of this shameless government,” He added. “We’ve already witnessed the failure of the dams that were included by the Ministry of Energy in the national plan for water management, and approved by the cabinet in 2012, from the Brisa dam to the Mseilha dam and others, and that makes us keener on rejecting those policies and projects, and fighting against them.”

What Is the Basri Dam?

The Bisri dam was supposed to be the second largest dam in Lebanon, and was supposed to secure water for the people of Beirut, according to the supporters of the dam. However, those assumptions proved to be inaccurate.

The cost of the project would have been around 617 million dollars, including 474 million dollars taken from the World Bank, with a capacity of 125 million cubic meters that would be accumulated in a lake of approximately 450 hectares; But this lake would have replaced the farmland.

Local residents, activists, and experts from all over Lebanon staged continuous movements for years, which intensified with the break out of the October 17 Uprising in Lebanon. In that way, they declared their rejection of the entire project, depending on studies and opinions of experts who confirmed that the project would eradicate vital agricultural land, in addition to threatening the people’s health due to the carcinogenic and polluted water. They also expressed their concerns that the dam would stir the seismic fault in the area which had caused an earthquake in 1956 that registered a magnitude of 6 on the Richter Scale.

“We don’t want the valley to turn into a mere nature reserve, we want to defend it as a vital facility that benefits the people of the region and contributes to achieving their food security.”

Last June, the World Bank partially suspended the project, when the International Financial Commission was waiting for a reply from the Lebanese government about some “concerns” which were considered as preconditions; this included the completion of “developing an ecological compensation plan” as a part of the ecologic and social assessment of the project.

Those preconditions also included reforestation, reducing fire risks, the completion of “Operation and maintenance arrangements”, and “the contractors’ presence on the site”, on September 4th, 2020.

It is worth mentioning that the loan to finance the project had been approved in 2014, and that the dam was supposed to be built in the Bisri Valley, 30 kilometers away from the south of the capital, to secure drinking water for 1.6 million people who live in Greater Beirut.

However, the deadline passed, and the Lebanese state could not abide by the conditions. Therefore, the World Bank declared that it had informed the Lebanese government with “the decision to cancel the unspent amounts for the increasing water lines project (the Bisri dam project) due to the failure to implement the terms that represent preconditions to launching the dam project.”

The bank stated that, “The canceled part of the loan amounts to 244 million US dollars, and the cancellation shall take effect immediately.”

The Bisri dam has fallen to give us hope that this will be an eternal end to it, other dams, and related projects that claim to solve people’s problems but actually only serve the interests of the corrupt political class, regardless of their health, environmental, or social damage…  The Bisri Dam project has fallen thanks to the activists who refused to sleep a wink and stuck to their guns, declining to give access to the building machinery to launch the project. They fought for their meadow and the health of their children, they fought for their much-coveted life, the opposite of which the dam would’ve offered them.

الأكثر قراءة

الأكثر قراءة
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Related articles

Vicken Cheterian
There is a deepening political crisis in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) – or the Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq. Following the news from a distance, one would get alarmed that the crisis might go out of hand, fear that the crisis might even turn once again into inter-Kurdish conflict. How does the situation look from the ground?
Isabella Crispino
While the Internet shutdowns plaguing Iran have been a staple method of the regime for the last decade, recent events reveal a more pressing fault line in moments of crisis: the role and responsibility of Big Tech.
Mahmoud Nafakh
In addition to freer travel, EU passports guarantee Syrians the highest protection against return to Syria and normalisation of Assad’s regime. However, while conditions and requirements for citizenship vary considerably in each EU member state, some Syrian refugees have to wait (much) longer than others.
Vicken Cheterian
As the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened with a new invasion of north-east Syria, there is a rich debate among Kurdish leaders in Qamishli concerning future relations with Turkey. While currently there is no immediate alarm about an imminent Turkish invasion, the question what to do if the American forces withdraw from Syria remains a major concern.
Farrah Akbik
Palestine. Palestine. Palestine. Never to be silenced. Rest in peace Shereen Abu Aqhleh.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
لتصلكم نشرة درج الى بريدكم الالكتروني