12/05/2018, 09.58
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Lebanon races against the clock to save Litani from death by pollution

Environmentalists and experts say the waters are invaded by household and industrial waste. The situation is "alarming" and progress "is not enough". The problems have been dragging on for decades, the result of bad practices in the treatment of wastewater. Saving the river "is a priority".

Beirut (AsiaNews) - After the cedar tree, symbol of the country, activists, environmentalists and civil society in Lebanon raise the alarm for the River Litani, one of the most important in the country, whose waters are now largely the equivalent of a basin of “domestic and industrial waste", says scientist Kamal Slim, member of the National Research Council.

The situation remains "alarming" in spite of some recent measures - closure of illegal and polluting industries, cleaning the banks – which have proven insufficient. The degradation process therefore risks being irreversible if the polluting sources are not stopped.

The experts' concern is shared by the population, which observes with its own eyes the environmental crisis. "I do not want to die of cancer," confesses a villager from Békaa Haouch el-Rafqa desperately to L'Orient-Le Jour (OLJ). Fears about the health of people, especially the elderly and children, are now widespread among locals.

For a long time the Litani was one of the most precious natural resources for Lebanon; however, today it is the epicenter of what is called an environmental catastrophe. In the 1960s it was possible to water the vegetables with its waters or swim in peace. Today, however, studies show a progressive deterioration and poor health conditions. Sami Alaouiyé, director of the Litani Water Department since March 2018, talks about "progress", but not enough to cope with the "environmental catastrophe" in taking place.

The water pollution was precipitated by the presence of Syrian refugees hosted in abusive reception centers built up along the river. However, even if their presence had environmental repercussions, they are certainly not the ones responsible for the emergency. These environmental problems have been dragging on for decades and are the result of malpractice in the treatment of wastewater; in addition, many factories dump industrial waste in the Litany, which is added to the solid waste thrown into the river.

In November, the Lebanese Ministry of Industry imposed the closure of 79 irregular factories, which had not respected the rules on the disposal of waste thrown into the Litani. However, at least 251 industries would be targeted by environmentalists and magistrates for their polluting activities: of these, at least 82 were outlawed and another 40 began to comply with environmental regulations.

To restore life to the river, the National Litani Office in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Industry and Energy received a loan of $ 55 million from the World Bank - along with other benefactors - to try to improve sewage systems, solid waste management and the fight against pollution.

Ecologists and experts stress that saving the river is a priority that requires everyone's commitment, from the individual citizen to the companies, from the local administration to the national executive. To respond to the emergency would need more powers in terms of environmental protection, because the Litany is the epicenter of an "ecological disaster", but it is still possible to remedy if long-term policies are adopted. Rivers must return to being "sources of life, not diseases".

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