Lebanese Water Wars

A tap with water running out of it.

How the fight for water splits a family

Water is life. We need it to stay healthy, to wash ourselves and our clothes, to produce the food and goods that we consume and use etc. It is imperative for every human being to have a regular and adequate source of clean water. Water is the most important and precious resource on Earth and has therefore inspired many political conflicts especially in areas where it is scarce due to geographical reasons. Akkar, Northern Lebanon, is one of these areas. During my holidays there this year I was able to experience the fight for water close to home.

In the village of my grandparents in Lebanon there is no central water supply system. Every family has to drill its own spring that it then uses for its water supply. These springs have different strengths and the water can only be obtained at certain hours as central electricity that is needed to pump up the water is not always available (it is only there every 4 hours). As soon as central electricity turns on one has to quickly turn on the pump and then fill plastic bottles and canisters or to divert the water to the central water tanks on the top of the house. The water in these tanks is not considered potable when it then comes out of the tab as bacteria and fungi can grow as the water is exposed to the heat and plastic. Additional water that is used in the house for showering, washing, cleaning etc. has to be bought from people who have very strong springs and can afford to sell some of their water. The water is transported with a tractor in a water tank (usually 200 litres) and is then pumped up into another water tank on the roof of the house. This requires the time and energy of a minimum of three people and is not a very secure affair.

My grandfather owns a relatively large piece of land on which he grows fruits and vegetables. His spring is also located there. The water from it has been sufficient to provide the family household of a family of 10 people so far.

However, now three adult sons, including my dad, have built a house and moved in with their families. The pump now has to supply a further 10 people and is therefore slowly becoming exhausted. I was very sad and shocked to notice that personal issues and disputes lead to an unfair water distribution. There was no rational decisions and no plan of how and who uses the spring at what time and how much each family has to additionally spend on water.

This lack of transparency led to anarchy: water was secretly diverted from the spring to the different houses, there was cheating and lying about who used the pump at what time and how long and alliances between different brothers and their father were established. While one brother was allowed to freely pump water and fill a 50l swimming pool for his children, the others were already told off and told to buy their water when they filled bottles for drinking. This shows that water is starting to become a means of suppression, manipulation, and control already at a family level.

This experience this summer has clearly shown me how precious water is for us humans and that is not a matter of course to have an adequate and reasonable source of it. In Germany where there is a water system with relatively low prices I never think about how much and for what I use my water; I can shower and use the washing machine whenever and how long I want to without worrying that the water will suddenly just cut off . However in Lebanon the water was always in my head: I thought about how I was using the water, calculated how much water was left in the tank, taught my small brother to not drink the tap water, waited for the electricity so that I could turn on the pump and organized the delivery of water. Once I was shocked to notice that there was no more water coming out of the shower; our tank was empty.

This is the story of my family in 2016. However, it is not unordinary one. Obtaining water is getting more and more difficult as the world’s population is continuing to rise, water is mismanaged, overused, polluted and affected by climate change and changing climate patterns. According to the Water Project 1 in 9 people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water and National Geographic’s predicts that by 2025 66% of all people will live in water-scarce regions. We have to start to reflect on how and for what we use this resource if we want to ensure that water is available for everyone.