WASHINGTON, December 16, 2010 – Beirut is fortunate to have high rates of municipal connection to the country’s relatively abundant water supply but all too often the taps run dry and residents pay on average 3.4% of their household income to private water suppliers. The $200 million Greater Beirut Water Supply Project is designed to fix this for an area of the city that is home to 1.2 million people including the low-income neighbourhoods of Southern Beirut.
The project was approved by the Board of the World Bank in Washington today and will build the infrastructure required for the intake, treatment, conveyance and storage of water to meet the pressing daily demand for 250,000 cubic meters of potable water. This new supply will reach residents of Baabda, Aley, parts of Metn, Southern Beirut and the Mount Lebanon region including 350,000 low-income residents of the Southern Beirut suburbs. Residents outside this area will also benefit indirectly as pressure on the water supply is managed more evenly.
“This vital water project is one of the first and major achievements of the national unity government of Lebanon thanks to an excellent cooperation between the Ministers of Finance and of Water and Energy. The project will have tremendous positive impact on the health, convenience and economic well being of the people of the capital city,” said Hedi Larbi, Country Director for the World Bank in Lebanon. “The people of Greater Beirut have been waiting for such a project for a very long time. They finally will have more clean water to meet their urgent needs.”
The cost of inaction in the water sector in Lebanon is estimated at about 1.8 percent of GDP or around US$433 million per year. The Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon area houses about half of the total Lebanese population and while the municipal connection rate is high, continuity of water supply is low, especially during the lean summer season. Households pay private water suppliers to meet their needs with water of often inferior quality. Poor residents in particular can ill afford the higher costs associated with this inefficient supply mechanism.
“Lebanon is one of the lucky countries of the Middle East with a relative abundance of water resources and rivers,” said Parameswaran Iyer, Project Leader and Senior Water & Sanitation Specialist at the World Bank. “The Lebanese water supply and sanitation sector has not achieved the level of service provision in line with this natural resource and the country’s level of economic development. This project is a great positive step in that direction.”
The Greater Beirut Water Supply Project had been a priority on the infrastructure list in Lebanon for quite a time, said Iyer. It was something to celebrate that there was now the green light to move ahead with work to ensure safe and sustainable water supply to a large part of the city and parallel capacity building to the Beirut Mount Lebanon Water Establishment to manage the system, he added.
The project is also important to the Government of Lebanon’s objective to reconcile economic development with environmental and social sustainability through better public services for all, especially the poor. The World Bank’s Country Partnership Strategy (CPS) also supports infrastructure concentrating on energy, water and urban transport. The CPS, which was presented to the Bank’s Board in August 2010, guides the World Bank Group’s business in Lebanon and sets out a selective program of Bank Group support, linked to the country’s development strategy, in coordination with other development partners and donors.