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Al Akhbar : Blue Gold project, the deceitful plan to commodify water in Lebanon

By: Firas Abou Mosleh

The Civic Influence Hub is carrying on with its marketing campaign for the Blue Gold project, calling upon Lebanese citizens to vote for the water plan without giving them any real information about it. The only available piece of information about the project is a promotional book sold in libraries for US$10, which is more part of the marketing strategy than a source of meaningful scientific facts. The business lobby, supported by financial and commercial companies, stole the show on International Water Day and invaded university halls in the past week. It sought to promote a solution for water problems in Lebanon by transforming this basic resource to a profitable commodity at the expense of the Lebanese people.

 

The Civic Influence Hub (CIH) stole the show on International Water Day by launching a huge and expensive media campaign, along with a series of promotional meetings held in nine leading universities, as a way to gain academic acknowledgement. However, the discussions lacked any scientific approach and were based on speeches and visual aids.

Ziad Sayegh, CEO of CIH, mentioned the promotional book as the “plan” governing the project, while teachers and students, just like the rest of us Lebanese, were not informed about the real plan that remains so far restricted to so-called “experts,” despite calls for regular citizens to “vote for the Blue Gold project.”

When the Blue Gold project was presented at Beirut Arab University on Friday, university president, Amr Jalal al-Adwi, promoted the project as “the ultimate solution for water problems” in Lebanon, a country that doesn’t suffer from a water deficit but from wastage. Al-Adwi announced that the CIH would have all “the support it needs” from the university, saying “we share the ceremony with them.” In fact, the meeting was indeed a “ceremony” or rather “an electoral rally” as described by engineering Professor Hamdi Seif, something you don’t usually expect at a university seminar.

However, this is the same approach that CIH has taken in previous lectures held at other universities. Seif talked about politics rather than dwelling on academic discussions; he praised the plan “originating from the people, not the government, and led by a team of experts,” saying that “it represents a national solution outside politics,” warning that “politics ruins everything… it ruins all human relations,” and describing the Blue Gold project as a “salvation sent to us from God!”

In his speech as a so-called academic, Seif said that “the project will only be executed through civic influence that distances itself from politics, as it is the case in Europe and the United States.” He also hoped that the project would amount to “a popular demand” that embraces “a million citizens,” stressing on the need to establish desalination plants along the coast “or else we won’t find any water to drink, even if such a plan wasn’t mentioned in the Blue Gold book.

Shamefully, university seminars have now been transformed into marketing opportunities for parties seeking to harvest the votes of students rather than being a space for scientific discussions.

Angelic businessmen

At the university seminar, Ziad Sayegh used the same promotional visual aids that people have been seeing in TV advertisements in peak hours. “Political parties divide us!” the videos stressed because apparently projects by businessmen unify us!

Indeed, these projects do unify businessmen from all political affiliations; hence they bring together most media platforms, advertising agencies and universities, so it is normal for the CIH to expect “a wave of support from the entire political spectrum for the sake of advertisement.”

Sayegh called upon the civil society to recover its “policy-making role” and to adopt a “partnership formula between the public and private sectors….in partnership with citizens.” However, the mechanism involving citizens hasn’t been defined yet. In an interview with Al-Akhbar, Sayegh said that such a mechanism should be the responsibility of a future National Water Council to be shared equally between delegates from the ministries concerned and civil society experts, as suggested by the CIH. Hence, citizens are invited to vote for a plan that they haven’t seen yet and to “participate” in projects that would be put forward according to formulas reached after the ratification of the plan, thanks to their votes!

“We are counting on public opinion so we can say that this is the plan of the Lebanese not the CIH,” Sayegh said! However, most Lebanese know nothing about the plan other than what they have been seeing in TV advertisements and on billboards; only few among them have read the promotional book, falsely described as a “plan,” while only a very small number has been informed about the real plan. How could it then be described as “the plan of the Lebanese?”

 

According to Sayegh “there is a complete separation between the commercial and financial role of businessmen that compromise the CIH and their commitment toward national causes.
Can any sane person believe that? Can any sane person believe that the project costing us US$ 5 billion is an innocent attempt by the private sector and the business bloc to save Lebanon? Is this a mere philanthropist, humanitarian work not guided by the many profits and high interests of controlling water and transforming it into an expensive commodity as was the case in all countries where businessmen “volunteered” in making investments into the water of the people?

Plans to invest in water deficit

The main dilemma that the Blue Gold advertisements seem to ignore is claiming that the project can lead to a water surplus of “500 million m3 if we properly manage the shallow and groundwater reservoirs.” This contradicts with many scientific researches confirming that “there will be no surplus if we take into consideration the population growth and the obvious climate changes as well as the increasing demand from agriculture, manufacturing, and other development projects.”

According to Bassam Hamdar, Chairman of the Faculty of Economics at the American University of Science and Technology (AUST), demand for water is expected to exceed 4 billion m3 by 2025. He said that this figure is “conservative” when compared with other UN studies expecting that Lebanon’s water needs would “double” until then, which would lead to an inevitable water deficit, even if we take all necessary measures like building dams, ponds, artificial groundwater stations and other projects seeking to harvest water.

“I see no signs of a surplus and I can assure you that Lebanon needs every drop of water for development and agriculture,” Hamdar said, explaining that he is not being pessimistic “but realistic.”

“Everything I say is based on local and international researches. All scientific institutions and researches confirm that water demand in Lebanon currently exceeds the 3 billion m3 level, and will exceed 4- 4.5 m3 in the future . Meanwhile, those who believe that Lebanon will have a surplus are basing their conclusions on researches suggesting that the current demand is less than 2 billion m3, which is not the case,” Hamdar added.

However, he said that Lebanon can maybe be transformed into a “water palace” if we are to rationalize consumption and harvest rainwater “through an effective administration.” Hamdar stressed on “maybe” because “I cannot talk about a surplus except when we are done with all development, agriculture, and vital industry projects. Then we’ll see if there is any surplus left.” He said that those who believe in a surplus and in Lebanon being a “water palace” are still living in the fifties and sixties when the amount of rainfall exceeded 1000 m3 per capita a year, and individual shares exceeded 2000 m3. This individual share decreased to 1350 m3 in the seventies and to less than 700 m3 today.

 

Hamdar warned that “we are now suffering from a water deficit despite all the talks about a surplus that can be used as an economic fortune like oil for example,” adding that “statistics reflect reality not wishes.” He disagreed with research that, “shrink Lebanon’s water needs” to justify a surplus. In fact, “figures mentioned in field and international researche stipulate that agriculture needs 2 billion m3 of water, human consumption needs 1 billion m3 and manufacturing needs 300 million m3, hence Lebanon’s needs 3.3 billion m3 of water a year, and that’s if we don’t take into consideration Syrian refugees,” explains Hamdar.

Regarding the available amount of rainfall, Hamdar explained that “from about 9 billion m3 of rainfalls a year, Lebanon loses 50 percent to evaporation, while another amount reaches rock layers and comes out as springs. Hence, the overall water wealth doesn’t exceed 3 million m3, while other studies estimate that the real figure ranges between 2.7 and 2.8 billion m3.”

Since Lebanon needs 3.3 billion m3 of water a year, while only receiving 3 billion m3, we can say that we are suffering from a shortage “and an annual deficit of 300 million m3, and that’s if we don’t take into consideration development projects, agricultural demands and population growth, estimated of about 1.7 to 2 percent a year. All these factors would increase the demand on water to over 4 billion m3 in the near future,” Hamder said, wondering “what water fortune are they talking about?” He also estimated that building more dams, artificial lakes and wells would “in the best scenarios fulfill only 10% of Lebanon’s water needs” because we don’t have the capacity to build large dams such as the Aswan and Ataturk dams.

Hamdar’s explanations that are based on facts, uncover the true objectives of linking the Blue Gold project to water surplus within the framework of a private-public sector partnership.
A “savage” project is hence revealed, because while experts warn from a water crisis in Lebanon, capitalists rush to transform this scarce resource into a profitable commodity in case they managed to control water.

Beware of commercial predicaments

 

Former MP and former president of Litani Authority, Nasser Nassrallah, warned from promoting Lebanon as a “water palace” enjoying a water surplus that can be invested in and sold and considers such ideas as “dangerous predicaments that could have good intentions or having implied objectives.”

“Scientifically speaking, based on the current water balance figures and current water capacities including rainfalls, springs and groundwater, and if we are to adopt a program based on realistic research to provide water to all sectors, we need to ask: is the available amount of water enough for drinking and domestic usage and for manufacturing and agricultural needs as well as hydroelectric plants?” Nasrallah asked, stressing that “talking about selling water and commercial investments is unacceptable.”

He also pointed out that residential agglomerations are mostly located on the coast and they have to use groundwater wells to access water. Most of the time, this water is mixed with seawater “which is improper for human use, but people are compelled to use it because water authorities cannot cover all of people’s needs.” Nasrallah said that Lebanon has “4 million citizens and 2.5 million tourists in normal circumstances, or a similar number of refugees such is the case nowadays,” adding “we need 4 billion m3 of water annually to satisfy our actual needs, is this amount available?”

He further explained that we have an “average rate of 850mm of annual rainfall over 10,452 km2, which means that we have about 8 billion m3 of water, however the evaporation rate is one of the highest in the region; we only have 40 to 50 winter days and the others are evaporation days, hence the evaporation rate varies between 50 and 55 percent and the remaining amount is hardly enough for Lebanese consumption.”

He warned that neither the domestic nor agricultural sectors are receiving enough water while many factories are using wells. Hence, “I stress that it is false to talk about a water surplus in Lebanon and if we are to properly cover Lebanese needs, then we would be talking about a pure deficit.”

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