Like the dysfunction in the electricity, internet and public sectors in Lebanon, the country’s patchy water sector is also seen, by many Lebanese, as an apt reflection of its hobbled government. Since the civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, Lebanese have learned how to manage as private citizens and not rely on the government for support and protection. This mentality continues to this day and while it serves them well in surviving and managing during power and water cuts, it is also harmful in that few Lebanese seek to hold the government accountable for these shortcomings.
There is a widespread conviction here that political corruption does more harm to water supply than global warming. For example, there are precious few Lebanese initiatives to unmask and end such systemic problems in governance and thereby improve the provision of basic services, like water, once and for all.
In Lebanon, politics and business run very, very close, and for every advocate for reform to the government’s handling of basic services, there is another government figure with business interests in the given sector that run counter to the interests of the larger public. Private water provision is big business in a country where the government runs short of public water demand by some 30 percent.
Unlike its neighbors of Syria and nearby Jordan, Lebanon is a water-rich country and sees enough rainfall and snowfall (in the mountains) to more than provide for its annual needs. Its problems are a lack of water collection and storage infrastructure, an antiquated network of pipes that leak some 40 to 50 percent of the water, and an almost complete lack of water treatment facilities to clean polluted water.
To improve many of Lebanon’s daily woes, like water shortage, a clean up of governance culture and a stamping out of corruption is required. In the meantime, the NGOs, church groups and foreign governmental funds are providing a stopgap role that certainly helps, but will only become truly sustainable when Lebanon has a political culture that can take such initiatives and scale them up nationally.
For a personal take on Lebanon’s water woes, check out A World Without Water. And for more on what’s being done to help the people affected, read Springs of Hope in Lebanon in the January issue of ONE.