QARAOUN/AL-MARJ, Lebanon: Sidon MP Bahia Hariri Friday launched the “Litani first” campaign, an initiative of the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development, to combat the severe pollution problem in Lebanon’s longest river.
The river, which runs from the Bekaa Valley into the Mediterranean Sea, has long been contaminated by untreated wastewater, industrial waste, pesticides and medical waste, among other things.
The Industry Ministry and the Litani River Authority, the government body responsible for overseeing the river, have taken a series of measures in recent months to limit pollution, including ordering factories to close and evicting refugees from camps that have encroached on river channels.
Speaking during a tour of the river basin Friday, Hariri, who heads the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc, described the river as “the vein of life” for all Lebanese people, from bringing “food and drink, to light and water.”
In March, her nephew, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, formed a new committee to tackle pollution along the whole length of the river, comprising representatives from 11 ministries, the LRA, the Council for Development and Reconstruction and others.
In February, Industry Minister Wael Abu Faour issued a decree setting out the aims of a separate joint committee between his ministry and LRA focused on tackling industrial pollution of the river.
Speaking along the banks of the Qaraoun Lake, which is formed by a dam on the Litani, Hariri said, “the case of the Litani River is a national issue, not a local one.”
However, effectively fighting the waters’ pollution requires coordination between Cabinet and Parliament, as well as local relevant bodies, she said. “While we don’t have a magic wand ... we have an opportunity to make progress and return life and vitality to the river,” she said.
Hariri was accompanied on her visit by the head of the LRA, Sami Alawieh, who briefed Hariri on the current situation of Qaraoun Lake, focusing on the exceptional rainfall this winter, which led to the lake’s waters overflowing.
Alawieh said that this forced the LRA to open the lake’s flood drain for the first time in a decade.
The second stop on Hariri’s tour was the village of Al-Marj, where the launch ceremony was held for the Litani First campaign.
After apologizing to the Lebanese people for the “neglect” and “disregard” of the river, which transformed it into an “instrument of death,” Hariri spoke of a renewed will to take the issue of pollution seriously.
“We have transitioned from a period of words, to one of action.”
The campaign launch was also attended by Future Movement-affiliated Information Minister Jamal Jarrah, who said that if work wasn’t launched to clean the Litani right away, “we will lose it forever.”
He noted multiple initiatives that had been launched to achieve this goal, including one to set up temporary camps for refugees in the area and another that seeks to eliminate industrial waste completely over the next five months.
The minister added that a sum of $25 million had been earmarked for the river cleanup, which he told The Daily Star was made up of funds from multiple sources, including the World Bank and the state treasury.
“However, we don’t want this money to go to waste and get us back to square one,” he said. - Additional reporting by Emily Lewis