LEBANON WATER FORUM 2021 (LWF21)
Governance of the Water Sector in Times of Crisis and Beyond
This afternoon marked the launch of the third iteration of the Lebanon Water Forum. The Lebanon Water Forum 21 (LWF21) was held virtually by Oxfam and the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) at the American University of Beirut (AUB), in partnership with the Lebanese Ministry of Energy and Water, as represented by H.E. Raymond Ghajar, Caretaker Minister of Energy of Water, and organised under the H2ALL consortium of the Norwegian Refugee Council, We World GVC, World Vision and Oxfam, funded by the European Union through the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, the Madad Fund.
LWF21’s launch was attended by more than 200 water experts, academics, and officials, representing more than 30 international and local organisations. Over these three days, the aim of LWF21 is to address water policy advancements and their implications, as well as changes in the investment landscape that will impact integrated planning in light of arising and ongoing national challenges.
Today’s sessions were opened with remarks from H.E Mr. Ghajar who asserted the importance of reforms in the water sector, as identified in the Updated National Water Sector Strategy and the revised Water Code: “major advancements in the Water Policy of Lebanon and their implementation is of crucial importance at this stage, accompanied by the commitment and willingness of the Water Establishments and Support from the International Community. These factors combined are pillars to an opportunity we can grab today and make it the turning point of the water sector.” Ghajar said that there’s a need for having a political consensus to implement these reforms. He highlighted the “need for skilled and experienced human resources at the water establishments level and the urgent necessity to make exceptions for recruiting operational staff through the Civil Service Council. He added: “the donors can be of great support to help the Ministry of Energy and Water to voice out this need at the political level.”
H.E. Mr. Ralph Tarraf, the European Union Ambassador to Lebanon, advocated that: “with a more coordinated effort, important and tangible results can be achieved. Water can become a sector in which an improved and trusting relationship between public institutions and citizens is fostered, setting a best practice for other sectors.”
In his opening note, Joseph Bahout, Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and
International Affairs at the American University of Beiruts, said that: “Lebanon is sometimes wrongly characterised as a country rich in water resources; however, the ratio of fresh water per resident in Lebanon is lower than countries like Syria, Iraq, and Sudan. The reasons are numerous and are related to rapid modernisation, urbanisation, economic development, population growth and the influx of refugees recently. In fact, with the rising demand there is a decline in available freshwater, due to climate change. This growing imbalance between supply and demand of water lately, in addition to several other challenges the water sector in Lebanon is facing, triggered the collaboration between IFI and OXFAM in 2016 to establish the Lebanon Water Forum to address the mounting challenges this sector is facing.”
Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam in Lebanon Country Director, said that:” Sadly, twenty years after the launching of the reforms, Lebanon is still unable to meet the water needs and priorities of its people and the managing water authorities. The various policy frameworks seem to have increased institutional duplication and responsibilities fragmentation on the sector.” Abi Khalil emphasized that the limited foreseeable durable solutions for hundreds of thousands of refugees in Lebanon, the economic crisis affecting the livelihoods of millions of Lebanon’s residents, the COVID19 pandemic, and the Beirut Port Explosion have had severe impacts on all communities, especially the most vulnerable. “These crises have affected and will continue to affect all sectors in Lebanon, and the water sector is no exception. The health crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic – puts further pressure on the immediate need for access to water for all,” she shared.
Today’s first panel discussion included interventions by Jean Gebran, General Director of the Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Establishment; Rizk Rizk, General Director of the Beqaa Water Establishment; Khaled Obeid, General Director of the North Lebanon Water Establishment; Wassim Daher, General Director of South Lebanon Water Establishment; and Sami Alawieh, General Director of the Litani River Authority. The panellists discussed the challenges their institutions have faced over the past three years and explored future opportunities in light of the ongoing crises facing Lebanon. The General Directors agreed that the mismanagement on the governmental level had a greater effect on the sector’s advancement. They saw the reforms in the National Water Strategy and Water Code as an opportunity to enhance the water sector, alongside further exceptions in recruiting skilled human resources and increasing spending ceilings to address the challenges imposed by the economic crisis.
The first day of the Forum concluded with a discussion of recent policy changes and their implications for water management and water service provision in Lebanon. The discussion started with a presentation of the “Revision of the National Water Sector Strategy and Water Code” by Suzy Hoayek, Advisor to the Minister of Energy and Water for the Water Sector, followed by the presentation of a policy paper on “Lebanon’s Water Laws: Bridging Policy Frameworks to Address New Challenges” by Georges Gharios, Water Consultant.
LWF21 will continue Wednesday and Thursday with the participation of esteemed water and energy experts and explore opportunities for strategic interlinkages between the water sector and other key sectors. Upcoming presentations and discussions will review investment in the water sector in light of the current economic and financial crisis and identify areas of improvement for accountability within the sector.
To (re)watch the forum:
Day 1, click here.
Day 2, click here.
Day 3, click here.
To read the Arabic version, click here.