The Litani River, the largest river in Lebanon, faces a multitude of environmental problems. Due to decades of neglect and mismanagement, the river has become heavily polluted. The main contributors to the degradation of Litani River are industrial pollution from factories and slaughterhouse, untreated sewage, chemicals from agriculture runoffs and disposal of municipal waste. The pollution has reached such a level where it is obvious to the human eye and causing serious health issues for people drinking its contaminated water.
The Litani River is a source of income for many families who use it in summer for many recreational activities; moreover, it is used for irrigation. On the banks of the Litani River, many hydroelectric and electric projects have been set up. The Lebanese government had made a dam that is linked to a hydroelectric power plant of 185MW capacity. The dam had been responsible for the formation of Qaraoun Lake; a polluted man-made lake.
In 2016, the World Bank approved a loan of $55 million to address the wastewater and agricultural runoff along the lake and the river. The problem of the fund is that they did not give a bigger investment to agricultural runoff. The Litani provides irrigation to 80% of agriculture lands in Bekaa and 20% in south Lebanon.
Many agricultural projects were implemented on the basin as Joun project and Al-Qasmieh project. Farmers are using the fertilizers and pesticides that are polluting the river with chemicals. On the other hand, farmers are impacted by the water they are using to irrigate their crops since it is polluted with chemicals and full of soil, gravel and sand.
Serious and concerted efforts are urgently required to restore Litani River to its lost glory. Two years ago, the Lebanese government announced $730 million project to clean up the pollution of Qaraoun Lake and Litani river. The seven years ambitious plan is divided into four components: $14 million will go to solid waste treatment, $2.6 million for agricultural pollution, $2.6 million for industrial pollution and $712 million for sewage treatment. However, there has been very little progress in implementing these project.
The Way Forward
In order to save the Litani River, here are few steps that must be taken urgently:
- Establish a sewage system especially for the new refugee camps near the river basin.
- Promote measures to tackle the industrial pollution.
- Stop industrial effluents from polluting the River.
- Establish waste treatment plants in the area.
- Hire staff to operate existing wastewater treatment plants. For example Zahle plant that lacks staff to operate.
- Build water treatment facilities for the local communities.
Small steps can effectively reduce the pollution and restore the lost glory of the Litani River. Thousands of people volunteered to clean up the Litani River on the national day of the Litani River. This took place after there was a huge online campaign titled “Together to Save the Litani River” initiated by activists. Thousands of people engaged online and then onsite to fish out rubbish; bulldozers removed accumulated sands and mud in the river from nearby sand quarries.