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FEATURE STORY February 11, 2019

Bisri Dam: Lebanon’s Biodiversity Will be Preserved


Bisri Dam will bring clean and continuous water to Beirut and Mount Lebanon by 2024. *Dr. Jean-Roger Mercier (JRM), the chair and the environmentalist of the Independent Panel of Experts on Environmental and Social Safeguards in charge of monitoring the Lebanon Water Supply Augmentation Project (Bisri Dam) explains how Lebanon’s overall biodiversity will be preserved.

Q 1: How will losses in biodiversity around the Bisri Dam be compensated for? What does the ecological compensation plan consist of? 

JRM: Since the Bisri dam is financed by the World Bank and since the World Bank has a very strict policy on biodiversity conservation which of course applies particularly to dams, this so-called “Operational Policy 4.04 on Natural Habitats” forces the developers of the dam to off-set which ever loss of biodiversity occurs because of the flooding of the area of the reservoir, but it can also be downstream in the case of fish for instance. 

So, what will happen will be a combination of translocation of some flower species for instance, in an off-set and protection measures downstream from the dam to allow for instance fish to go back and forth.

Q 2: Will there be any loss in Lebanon’s overall biodiversity?

JRM: No, by definition there won’t be any net loss of biodiversity. The basic principle of the policy on natural habitats is that the permanent loss due to the dam has to be more than compensated by the translocation but also by the so-called ecological off-set. 

The beauty in the case of Bisri Dam is that there is a great biosphere center “Chouf” near the area. The compensation will be in the form of enhanced management of the biodiversity in the Chouf area which is managed by a great team of national and international experts. Additionally, there will be some degree of reforestation for species like pines and oaks. This is all being defined by a multi-disciplinary team, which includes people competent in economics, as well as biodiversity. There is even a biodiversity translocation expert in the team and the Geographic Information System (GIS) is used.

So all this is being taken extremely seriously.

Q 3: Has any other country succeeded in preserving its biodiversity in similar cases?

JRM: By international standards, the case for the Bisri Dam is reasonably straightforward. It is about a bit less than 6 Km2 of biodiversity that will be directly affected on the land. In other countries, the loss in case of pipelines or dams, has been in the area of hundreds or thousands of Km2. So the scale in Bisri is reasonable. Also, the value of the biodiversity, which is significant in the case of Bisri, is not extremely high compared with other places, where tropical conditions for instance prevail. 

We can quote the case of “Lom Pangar” dam in Cameroon for instance, which had to compensate for again hundreds of Km2 in an area where great apes for instance depended not only on the nature but also wild animal corridors that could be cut by the dam and where off sets have been put in place very seriously.

There are two last things I want to say. One is that this is an opportunity for Lebanon to improve taking biodiversity into consideration in environmental impact assessments through decree or law. It is a great opportunity for Lebanon to increase its capacity on biodiversity for large dams and projects. The second point is that all of this will be extremely closely monitored. What we are committing to right now at the initial stages of the project, will be confirmed by monitoring. And if things go wrong and the biodiversity is not compensated for, then this is a condition that the World Bank might use to suspend the loan or to you stop the construction.

*Dr. Jean-Roger Mercier is an international expert in environmental and social impact assessment. He conducted strategic environmental and social assessments for projects funded by the European Commission, the French Government, the World Bank, and the French Development Agency (AFD) around the globe. He served as member of several Dams Experts Panels in various countries, often chairing the environmental and social panels. He currently chairs AFD’s analytical review of environmental and social risk operational management.  

Other members of the Independent Panel of Experts on Environmental and Social Safeguards in charge of monitoring the Lebanon Water Supply Augmentation Project (Bisri Dam) project include Prof. Ania Kotarba-Morley (archeology and culture) and Dr. Arbi Ben Achour (social aspects).