Postcard from... Beirut


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The Independent Online

“Do you have water?” has become a frequent refrain at Beirut social occasions. While usually forced to wear wellies throughout January, this year Lebanese saw particularly sunny weather.

They now react with joy to the skies opening. The farmers are worried about their harvest.  And the country’s ski resorts have seen their winter season dry up; the lack of snow meant most didn’t even open.

The problem does not come as a surprise; Lebanon has structural water issues. Last year 48 per cent of  its water was lost due to leaky infrastructure. The country is also hosting over a million Syrian refugees, increasing demand on its dwindling supplies. Municipal water runs out regularly at the end of summer. But now groundwater is also running low and turning salty.

And in the midst of economic hardship brought on by Lebanon’s freefalling economy, the drought is hitting people’s pockets. Municipal water prices increased 25 per cent last year, and now most people rely on costly private water trucks. The cost of 1,000 litres of water is around £16.

Summer in Lebanon usually brings protests about the lack of electricity, traditionally also in short supply as power-hungry ACs start humming. Riots about the lack of water seem imminent.

In the south of the country, residents have started to pray for rain in an ancient ritual called Shish Balli.

Over the weekend it seemed to work as taps flowed again. But for how long?