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Photo by Anadolu Agency

The longest river in Lebanon suffers from severe pollution, which has made it lose its vital role in the country

More than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land is irrigated by polluted river waters

An increase in the incidence of cancer in the towns near the river
Last April, more than 120 tons of fish died in a lake where the river empties

It is enough to watch the dark color of water and waste floating on the surface of the Litani River, to realize that the longest rivers in Lebanon have turned from a lifeline to a source of epidemics and death, due to poor planning and chronic management.

The Litani River cuts through the middle of the map of Lebanon, extends 170 km from the Bekaa Valley (west) and pours into the Mediterranean in the south of the country, and its basin area constitutes about 20 percent of the country’s area.

It is a natural blessing and a source of life in this geographical spot, but about 3 decades ago it turned into a “curse”; As a result of the increasing rates of pollution in the river due to sewage and industrial water that flows directly into it without treatment.

** Lebanese loss

Thus, Lebanon lost the most important natural resource in the country. On this river, projects and studies were established to benefit from it in the production of hydroelectric energy and to secure irrigation and drinking water for almost half of the Lebanese regions, but the pollution made it lose most of its development function.

The repercussions of this bitter reality are not limited to the environment and the economy. Pollution also kills the health of tens of thousands of citizens and refugees living in towns and regions along the banks of the river.

The number of Lebanese residing in the residential areas very close to the Litani River is estimated at about 100,000, while the number of Syrian refugees residing in camps on the banks of this river is about 70,000.

** Pollution and health hazards

“Abu Emad,” a resident of the town of Hosh al-Rafiqah, which is adjacent to the river, says, “The sewage has been passing through the river between our homes for years, and it causes dangerous repercussions on the health of the residents.”

He added in his interview with Anadolu Agency: “The crops in the area are also polluted, and this is the case with all the towns along which the river passes.”

According to a recent report issued by the National Litani River Authority (a government-affiliated to the Ministry of Energy and Water) obtained by Anatolia, “more than 1,000 hectares of agricultural land in the Bekaa Valley is irrigated directly from the polluted waters of the river and its tributaries.”

The authority has repeatedly warned that “the river’s water does not conform to the microbial standards for use in irrigation of crops,” and warned that “using it for irrigation may threaten food and health security in the country.”

According to the same source, “the incidence of cancerous diseases in the towns near the Litani River is significantly higher compared to the rate of cancer in Lebanon in general.”

The authority says in its report that the Litani River “has turned into a sewage and industrial river, and has become a vector for epidemics and diseases, and has polluted groundwater and agricultural lands.”

**Environmental disaster

Al-Rawda municipality is also one of the towns that suffer from the pollution of the Litani River. Its mayor, Majid Younes, told Anadolu Agency, that the residents “are facing an environmental and human catastrophe.”

He adds: “The agricultural products are polluted, as are the fish in the lake. They (the officials) always talk about projects to stop pollution, but none of them have been accomplished.”

Last April, the Lebanese authorities announced the extraction of more than 120 tons of dead fish in the polluted Qaraoun Lake, into which the Litani River flows.

Environmental experts at the time suggested that pollution was the cause of the fish’s death after it was infected with a dangerous epidemic.

Because of the high levels of pollution in Lake Qaraoun, the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture has prevented fishing from it since 2018, which has caused dozens of families to lose their livelihood.

** Shameful

Sheikh Jamil Assi, the imam of the village of “Dahr El Hama”, which crosses the river in the middle, describes it as “shameful” because of the pollution that has gone on for decades without treatment.

Assi told Anadolu Agency, that this reality “causes chronic and incurable diseases for the townspeople, such as cancer, asthma and other epidemics, and leads to the death of dozens of children and the elderly in his town annually.”

He adds that “the corrupt authority over the past years has made us face death that crosses our town (the river)”, appealing to “the United Nations to extend a helping hand to save the population from this reality.”

In the town of “Baralias” near the river, 600 cases of cancer were recorded out of a total population of about 12,000 people, while in the town of “Hosh El Rafqa”, which has a population of about 1,700 people, 60 cases of cancer were recorded.

These figures, according to the Litani River National Authority, reveal that the rate of cancer in these two towns, and other towns near the river, is among the highest in the world in proportion to the population.

** bad management

Director-General of the Litani River Authority, Sami Alawiyeh, told Anadolu Agency that the problem of pollution of the Litani River “is caused by the mismanagement of water resources in Lebanon since the country gained its independence in 1943.”

This is represented by “the weakness of urban planning over the decades, in addition to the lack of a sewage master plan in light of urban expansion,” according to Alawiyeh.

Evidence of “chronic mismanagement is the transformation of agricultural lands into industrial areas without adherence to environmental procedures in light of the rampant administrative corruption in the public sector and the lack of oversight and accountability,” according to Alawia.

He points out that “all these factors and conditions made sewage and industrial water flow directly to the sea shores and into rivers, especially the Litani River.”

Alawiya points out that this fact “led to the loss of the water sector, which was historically glorified by the Lebanese state, given that the country enjoys great water wealth due to the large number of springs and rivers in it.”

The Lebanese official concludes, “Unfortunately, this wealth was wasted and wasted as a result of successive mismanagement over decades on the one hand, and the failure to establish plants for refining sewage and industrial water on the other hand, but rather it was left to flow into the river without treatment.”

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