Questions & Answers: Water Supply Augmentation Project, Lebanon

September 30, 2014


Bisri's right embankment

The Water Supply Augmentation Project will increase the volume of water available to the Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon area where approximately half of the Lebanese population lives. The Project is financed by the World Bank, Islamic Development Bank and Government of Lebanon. The World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved the project on September 30, 2014.

Q1: If Lebanon has a lot of water, why are there shortages?

Lebanon’s climate and geography cause significant variations in water availability, with floods common in the winter, followed by droughts in the summer. These natural characteristics have historically required water to be stored during the winter for use in the summer. Up to the early 1970’s, Lebanon relied primarily on its extensive groundwater for water supply and storage and provided continuous water services to users.

After the Civil war, the water situation began to deteriorate. This was largely because of rapid urbanization, old and inefficient infrastructure and delays in new investments and reforms.

As a result, over 20,000 illegal wells were built in the Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon (GBML) area alone. Groundwater was over-pumped, supplies were not replenished and water quality deteriorated. Groundwater was no longer stored for the dry season and supplementary storage infrastructure was not constructed. Lebanon only stores 6 percent of its total water resources, rendering it the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) country with the least dam storage capacity.

In addition to storing less water, the old and leaky system of distribution pipes also lose almost half of the water put through them, leading to significant inefficiencies. Residents thus turn to tanker trucks (citernes), illegal wells and bottled water to supplement water supply to their homes, often at a very high cost.

Thus, despite its relatively abundant water resources, Lebanon loses large portions of its supplies and is thus significantly water stressed. To reduce the water deficit and alleviate shortages, Lebanon must manage its demand for water, increase storage and implement the institutional reforms which will make the sector more robust and efficient. The Water Supply Augmentation Project is an important element of this strategy. The Project provides additional water storage capacity, technical assistance to the sector institutions and complements other ongoing efforts at demand management and supply augmentation.

Q2: Aren’t there simpler and cheaper ways to increase water supply?

The Government of Lebanon has been considering ways to improve the water supply in Greater Beirut since the early 1960s and has considered many alternatives. In 2012, the Government approved the National Water Sector Strategy (NWSS), a comprehensive and integrated plan for delivering increased access to water supply and irrigation. The NWSS outlined key demand management measures including: (i) rehabilitating and replacing old pipes; (ii) controlling water use through metering and (iii) raising awareness on water conservation. In the Greater Beirut region, many of these actions are already being implemented through the Greater Beirut Water Supply Project (the “Awali project”) which for example, is replacing over 400 kilometers of old pipes.

A detailed Analysis of Alternatives was commissioned by the Government and reviewed the technical, economic, environmental and social aspects of four dam options as well as several non-dam options, including improved groundwater management, desalination, demand management and treated wastewater reuse. Construction of a dam and associated facilities at Bisri was determined to be the best next step in a program of investments and reforms aimed at improving water service delivery nationwide.  

Q3: Why the focus on the Greater Beirut region?

The Government’s National Water Sector Strategy outlines plans for the improvement of water services across all regions of Lebanon. Many of these projects are currently already under implementation.

The GBML region is home to half of the entire Lebanese population (approximately 2.2 million people), many of whom are poor and live on less than US$ 4 per day. In the GBML area alone, there are over 20,000 illegal wells that are currently being used for drinking water, many of which produce water of poor quality. The GBML is also the hub of economic activity in Lebanon and has seen significant increases to its population over the past decades.

As a result, GBML residents receive an average of three hours of water per day during the dry season, which has negatively impacted the economy, the environment and total household expenditure. These factors were crucial in the Government’s decision to implement this transformation project in tandem with other national projects and reforms as agreed in the NWSS.

Q4. How large is the dam, how much water will it store? Where is it located?

The dam will be 73 meters high and will store 125 Million cubic meters (m3). Bisri dam will be the second largest dam in Lebanon after Karoun. The dam will fill during the winter and spring and will be used during the summer and fall. The dam axis is located immediately upstream of the village of Bisri.

Q5: How long will it take for the dam to be built?

Construction of the dam will take five years. The project will be implemented over nine years to allow for the startup work ahead of construction, and two years of operation and maintenance.

Q6: Will the water stored be clean?

Water stored in the Bisri dam will be treated at the Ouardaniyeh water treatment plant, which is currently under implementation as part of the Greater Beirut Water Supply Project (GBWSP – also called the Awali project). There will also be regular monitoring of water quality in the Bisri reservoir and the construction of a new sewerage network upstream of the dam to divert waste away from the reservoir and into wastewater treatment plants in upstream catchments.  

Q7: How will the water reach Beirut? What is the link to the Awali project?

The water stored in the Bisri dam will flow to Beirut through the underground tunnel, water treatment plant and large storage tanks currently under construction under the GBWSP. The water stored at Bisri will flow to Beirut entirely by gravity and will not incur pumping costs.

The GBWSP is a critical project which will meet the short term needs of the GBML for potable water and is partially financed by the World Bank.

A number of independent studies confirmed that the Awali project is a standalone project which does not require a dam to be economically or technically feasible. The Awali project however will not provide enough water for the long term. By adding the Bisri dam upstream of the Awali infrastructure, Government will have secured water to the GBML for the medium and long term.

Q8: Is the dam safe? We hear that it is being built in an area known for earthquakes.

For large dam projects, the World Bank requires the establishment of an international Panel of Experts on Dam Safety. This Panel is responsible for reviewing all technical and safety aspects of the design of the dam. Unless the Panel approves the design, the Bank will not finance construction of the dam.

The Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), the project implementing agency, has recruited four internationally recognized experts in dam engineering, geology, hydrology and seismology. These are internationally renowned technical experts who have worked on dams around the world. The Panel of Experts reviewed the dam safety studies for Bisri (including those for earthquakes) and confirmed that Bisri has been designed conservatively and consistent with international best practice.

Q9: Who would benefit from improved water? 

The project will deliver benefits to 1.6 million residents across the GBML region, including 460,000 people living on less than US$ 4 per day, the national poverty line. Project beneficiaries will see: (i) an increase in the volume of public water supply and (ii) a reduction in the cost of securing water to the home.

A survey of 1,200 beneficiary households was undertaken during the design of the project. The survey confirmed that GBML households pay up to 15% of total household expenditure on securing water to the home. This figure is significantly higher than international benchmarks. For low-income households and the poor, it is even more difficult and costly to secure water to the homes, since these families often do not purchase as much water from private vendors and resort to public wells or lower quality water. The Project will thus increase the volume of water while simultaneously decreasing the total cost of water.

Q10: How will communities in Bisri benefit from construction of the dam?

The Government has reflected international best practice in ensuring that people living near the dam benefit from the project. The Water Supply Augmentation project thus incorporates several measures to mitigate the impacts on local communities. These measures include:

1.      Contractors will be required to employ laborers from the affected communities on a priority basis thereby increasing employment opportunities during the five year construction period;

2.      A special fund will be set up to finance activities/equipment/materials that the affected communities want or need. This fund will be exclusively reserved for those villages and communities affected by the project works and will be financed by the project and

3.      All land expropriation and resettlement will be implemented as per the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP), which optimizes Lebanese procedures for land expropriation.

Q11. Will beneficiaries have to pay more for water as a result of the new project?

Lebanese citizens spend up to 15% of their household incomes on tankers (citernes), wells and bottled water, significantly more than the international average. With the new project, households will be able to depend on the public water network for improved water supply. They will no longer need to rely on alternative water sources and will hence see substantial reductions in their household water expenditures.  

Q12: Will people have to wait until the dam is constructed before getting improved water supply?

The Government has embarked on a series of priority investments in the water sector, many of which are currently underway. The GBWSP (Awali project) will meet the immediate and short-term needs of the GBML region for potable water. It will transfer water from the Joun reservoir to Beirut through an underground tunnel, water treatment plant and network of pipes across the city.

The Awali project however will not provide enough water for the long term. So by adding the Bisri dam upstream of the Awali infrastructure, Government will have secured water to the GBML for the medium and long term.

Q13: How many people are losing their land? How will their compensation be assessed?

A total of 869 plots of land will be expropriated for the project. Over 80% of the landowners do not live on their land, and many do not live in Lebanon.

As per Lebanese procedures, independent expropriation committees will assess the value of the land. Landowners will then be contacted to come forward to claim their compensation, which is held in a special purpose account. The detailed Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) provides more detail on the expropriation and compensation procedures.

Q14: How will the dam’s environmental and social impacts be mitigated?

Mitigating environmental and social risks during the construction and operation of dams is a high priority for the World Bank and its partners. An Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was carried out in close collaboration with government agencies, civil society, the private sector and community members and has been approved by the Ministry of Environment. A detailed Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) was also developed and details the process through which land expropriation and resettlement will be undertaken. Both documents were publically disclosed and are available at www.cdr.gov.lb

The project further includes a detailed Environment and Social Management Plan (ESMP) which includes specific actions to mitigate the identified environmental and/or social impacts of the project. The ESMP is available as part of the ESIA.

As per the World Bank’s Safeguards policies, the Government will recruit an independent panel of Environment and Social experts to oversee the implementation of the ESMP. The Panel’s reports and findings will be closely monitored by the World Bank as part of project supervision.