Water profile of Lebanon

Source: FAO

Geography and Population

Lebanon, with a total area of 10,400 square kilometers (km2), is situated east of the Mediterranean Sea and stretches about 210 kilometers (km) along the coast and 50 km inland. It is bordered by Syria in the north and east and by Israel in the south. Administratively it is divided into six Mohafazats or provinces.

caption Map of Lebanon. (Source: FAO-Forestry)

Topographically, Lebanon can be divided from west to east into four parallel parts:

  • a flat, narrow coastal strip parallel to the sea;
  • the Lebanon Mountains chain, the highest crest of which is just over 3,000 meters (m);
  • the Bekaa Valley at a height of around 900 m;
  • the Anti-Lebanon Mountains chain, which rises to 2,800 m, in the east.

The cultivable area is estimated at 360,000 hectares (ha), or 35% of the total area. During the period 1992-94, the total cultivated area was estimated at 189,206 ha, of which 104,120 ha consisted of annual crops and 85,086 ha consisted of permanent crops, mainly fruit trees and olives. The Ministry of Agriculture is planning to start up a national agricultural census in 1996, the last one being carried out in 1970. According to the 1970 census there were 140,000 farm holdings with 63% having less than 2 ha of land, which means that agriculture is characterized by land fragmentation. However, there are indications of a decrease in the number of very small farms and in 1985 it was reported that about 46% of the farm holdings had less than 2 ha of land.

The total population is about 3 million (1995), of which only 13% is rural. The annual demographic growth rate is estimated at 2%. The agricultural labor force declined from 25% in 1967 to less than 9% in 1990. However, agriculture remains an important source of income in rural areas and although it is difficult to estimate the number of full-time farmers, most families have agriculture as a part-time activity. Seasonal labor represents between 30 and 40% of the present agricultural labor force. In 1992, agriculture accounted for an estimated 8.8% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and for 30% of total export earnings.

Climate and Water Resources


The climate of Lebanon is typically Mediterranean, with heavy rains in the winter season (January to May) and dry and arid conditions in the remaining 7 months of the year. However, the influence of the Mediterranean Sea, the topographic features, as well as the Syrian Desert in the north create a variety of micro-climates within the country with contrasting temperatures and rainfall distribution. The average annual temperature is 20°C on the coast (ranging from 13°C in winter to 27°C in summer), 16°C in the Beeka valley (ranging from 5°C in winter to 26°C in summer) and less than 10°C at higher elevations in the mountain zones (ranging from 7°C in winter to 18°C in summer). Average annual rainfall is estimated at 823 millimeters (mm), varying from 600 to 900 mm along the coastal zones to 1,400 mm on the high mountains and decreasing to 400 mm in the eastern parts and less than 200 mm in the north-east. Above 2,000 m, precipitation is essentially niveous and helps to sustain a base yield for about 2,000 springs during the dry period. Rainfall occurs on 80 to 90 days a year, mainly between October and April. About 75% of the annual stream flow occurs in the five-month period from January to May, 16% from June to July and only 9% in the remaining five months from August to December.

Water Resources

In total, there are about 40 major streams in Lebanon and, based on the hydrographic system, the country can be divided into five regions:

  • the El Assi (Orontes) river basin in the north. The El Assi flows into Syria in the north-east of the country;
  • the Litani river basin in the east and south. The Litani reaches the sea in the south-west of the country;
  • the Hasbani river basin in the south-east. The Hasbani, which flows into Israel in the south east of the country, is a tributary of the Jordan river;
  • all the remaining major coastal river basins. The northern El Kebir river basin is shared with Syria, the river itself forming part of the border between the two countries before flowing into the sea;
  • all the remaining small in-between scattered and isolated sub-catchments with no noticeable surface streamflow, like the endorheic catchments and isolated coastal pockets.

Lebanon has a relatively favorable position as far as its rainfall and water resources are concerned, but constraints for development consist of the limited water availability during the seven dry summer months. Annual internal renewable water resources are estimated at about 4.8 cubic kilometers (km3). Annual surface runoff is estimated at 4.1 km3 and groundwater recharge at 3.2 km3, of which 2.5 km3 constitutes the baseflow of the rivers. About 1 km3 of this flow comes from over 2,000 springs with about 10-15 liter per second (L/s) of average unit yield, sustaining a perennial flow for 17 of the total of 40 major streams in the country.

Water flows

Lebanon being at a higher elevation than its neighbors has practically no incoming surface water flow. A contribution of 74 million cubic meters per year (m3/year) to the El Kebir river, to the north, is estimated to be generated by the 707 km2 bordering Syrian catchment areas. There might also be some groundwater inflow from these areas, but no figures on quantities are available. Surface water flow to Syria is estimated at 510 million m3/year through the El-Assi (Orontes)) river and the bordering El Kebir river. A recent (informal) agreement between Lebanon and Syria on the Orontes river has led to a share of 80 million m3/year for Lebanon and the remainder for Syria. Surface water flow to Israel is estimated at 160 million m3/year, of which about 138 million m3 through the Hasbani river including a contribution of 30 million m3 from its tributary, the Wazzani spring. Annual groundwater outflow is estimated at 1,030 million m3, of which 130 million m3 to Syria, 180 million m3 to Israel and 720 million m3 to the sea.

The relative importance of groundwater flow to the sea and the difficulties related to its control, added to the difficult geological conditions of most of the investigated sites for storage dams, make the manageable resources of Lebanon certainly much lower than the global figure of 4.8 km3/year. The most realistic figure recognized does not exceed 2.2-2.5 km/year.


The Karaoun dam on the Upper Litani river is the largest, with a storage capacity of 220 million m3 and an effective storage of 160 million m3 from year to year. It regulates the downstream flow of the Litani river for power generation and irrigation. The Bisri dam on the Awali river is currently at the final design stage for a storage capacity of 128 million m3 and is intended mainly for supplying water to Greater Beirut. The Kardalé dam on the middle reach of the Litani river, also to give a storage capacity of 128 million m3, has been postponed at the preliminary design stage, in view of the prevailing adverse security situation in the southern border region.

The Green Plan, which is a public authority established in 1963 responsible for the development of water reservoirs, and the private sector, have already developed hundreds of small earth and concrete storage pounds, with a maximum per unit capacity of 0.2 million m3. During the period 1964-1992 the Green Plan led to a total of 3.5 million m3 of earth pounds and 0.35 million m3 of concrete pounds.

The Litani River Authority implemented three hillside stock ponds in the early 1970s for a total storage capacity of about 1.8 million m3.


About 165 million m3 of wastewater was produced in 1991, of which 130 million m3 of domestic origin and 35 million m3 of industrial origin. There is infiltration water from cesspools to groundwater and a direct outflow of sewerage water to the natural watercourses, especially in the inland villages and communities where it is commonly directed to watercourses. In 1991, the quantity of treated wastewater was roughly estimated at 4 million m3, the quantity reused at 2 million m3, for some informal irrigation. Some illicit irrigation from untreated wastewater is practiced.

Seepage from the water supply networks, of between 35 and 50%, is almost all infiltrated to the aquifers and extracted again via tubewells, especially in the Greater Beirut Metropolitan area.

Water Withdrawal

In 1994, water withdrawal for agricultural, domestic. and industrial purposes was estimated at 1,293 million m3, of which 67.7% for agricultural purposes (28.4% is withdrawn for domestic use and 3.9% for industrial use). The assessment of agricultural water use is based on a water use of 11,200 m3/ha per year from surface water and 8,575 m3/ha per year from groundwater. In 1991, about 700 million m3 was estimated to be used for hydropower, with direct restitution to the natural river courses.

Irrigation and Drainage Development

Irrigation potential, based on soil and water resources, is estimated at 177,500 ha. In 1993, the total area equipped for irrigation was estimated at 87,500 ha, of which 67,500 ha for perennial irrigation and 20,000 ha for seasonal irrigation (spring).

Surface irrigation, mainly basin and furrow irrigation, is practiced on 53,500 ha. It usually comprises diversion structures or simple intakes on streams or springs, open concrete main canals and earth or concrete secondary canals. Sprinkler irrigation is practiced on 21,000 ha, especially for potatoes and sugar beet in the Bekaa Central Plain. Micro-irrigation is practiced on 13,000 ha, especially in North Bekaa (Qaa region) and in the coastal region.

The main source of irrigation water is the Litani river and the Litani-Awali complex of water resources. In 1993, it was estimated that 54.3% was irrigated from surface water and 45.7% from groundwater (artesian wells, recharge wells, and springs). The use of groundwater for irrigation has increased in the past few years in view of the delay in the implementation of governmental schemes. Individual farmers in the schemes who face water shortages are increasingly relying on supplementary supply from groundwater by means of private wells and in 1992-95 about 2,000 wells were added to an overall total of more than 10,000 wells, especially in the southern coastal hills and in North and Middle Bekaa Central Plain.

The public irrigation sub-sector, essentially unchanged since 1970, consists of about 5 large-scale schemes (> 1,000 ha) and 50 medium and small-scale schemes. The total number of households in the irrigation schemes is estimated at 58,500. Most of the schemes are old, poorly maintained and in an advanced state of deterioration. It is estimated that most of the area irrigated by surface water needs rehabilitation. The private irrigation sub-sector continues to develop to a much larger and dynamic extent, based essentially on tubewells.

The average cost for irrigation development ranges from $US 2,500/ha for small schemes, $US 3,750/ha for medium schemes and between $US 4,000 and 7,000/ha for large schemes. Estimates of operation and maintenance costs are $US 40/ha per year for small schemes with gravity surface irrigation. As regards medium schemes, these cost from $US 100/ha per year for gravity surface irrigation to $US 600/ha per year for private wells and, for large schemes, from $US 400/ha per year for private pumping in rivers to $US 600/ha per year for tubewells.

In governmental irrigation systems, irrigation water is charged at a flat rate per planted area, except in the modern pressurized irrigation schemes of the Litani River Authority in South Bekaa and Saida-Jezzine where volumetric metering is provided. At present, for the Qasmieh-Ras El Ain coastal scheme, water charges are fixed at $US 260/ha for farmers who irrigate by gravity directly from the canal. In the Danneyeh scheme and the Akkar scheme, in the north, water charges range from $US 30 to 125/ha.

In the period 1992-94 the major irrigated crops were vegetables, fruit trees, potatoes and, to a lesser extent, cereals (maize, wheat, barley) and sugar beet. The average yield for irrigated wheat and barley was estimated at 5.0 tons per hectare (t/ha), as against 2.2 t/ha for rainfed wheat and barley.

The amount of agricultural land suffering from drainage problems is fairly limited and is mainly in South Bekaa (about 5,000 ha) and in the Boquaia Plain in Akkar (about 4,000 ha). The area benefiting from improved drainage through open ditches and river calibration was estimated at about 10,800 ha in 1993. River calibration is also done to protect against flood damage, especially over the Litani river, upstream of Karaoun Lake, where the drainage and calibration works realized in the 1970s helped to alleviate the flood damage on about 1,500 ha.

Institutional Environment

The institutions with direct decision-making authority for irrigation and water resources development and management are the Ministry of Hydraulic and Electrical Resources (MHER) and, under its responsibility, the Litani River Authority (LRA) which is in charge of implementing the two most important ongoing projects, in South Bekaa (21,500 ha) and Southern Lebanon (30,000 ha), and of exploiting the potential Qasmieh - Ras El Ain coastal irrigation scheme (4,000 ha). Also under the responsibility of MHER, there are 25 local irrigation authorities, each exploiting a small or medium irrigation project on areas of between 10 and 300 ha, and 126 local irrigation committees, which were instituted by Ministerial Decrees during the period 1984-1990. An institutional plan is under way to merge these authorities and committees into five main authorities, at the Mohafazat, or provincial, level (excluding Beirut).

The Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) is, at present, the most powerful institution in irrigation rehabilitation and development. It manages a $US 58 million loan from IBRD for the rehabilitation and modernization of the 5 large irrigation schemes and about 28 medium schemes, for a total area of about 43,000 ha. It also manages a $US 13 million loan from IFAD for the on-farm support activities connected to the above projects.

Responsibilities for agricultural development lie within the following administrations: the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and, under its responsibility, the Agricultural Research Institute (IRAL) and the Green Plan (GP). MOA has recently issued institutional regulations to allow autonomy to the GP, with responsibility for land preservation, land reclamation, rural roads construction, small hydraulic development of hillside stock ponds, and schemes and farm-level infrastructure works. In addition, MOA has recently established a new autonomous institution, called 'The Institution for Alternate Crops', centring on the Baalbeck-Hermel traditional region of illicit crops.

Water laws and regulations on water are mostly outdated and, at present, water rights constitute a constant source of disputes. Groundwater is tapped by thousands of informal private wells with no licenses, no water metering and no charges or taxes for the tapped volumes.

Many sectoral and regional water resources planning studies are under way by CDR, MHER, and LRA. The establishment of the National Water Master Plan is also foreseen. The most important decree for regional water resources planning is the Decree No 14522 of 10 May 1970 which organizes the allocation of the available water resources south of the Beirut river up to the southern international borders and up to the 800 m elevation on the western skirts. This decree, however, requires updating.

Trends in Water Resources Management

The development of potential future irrigation aims at increasing the actual area of 87,500 ha up to the potential soil and water ceiling of 177,500 ha, concentrated mainly in South Lebanon, the Bekaa Plain and the northern coastal areas (Akkar).

The irrigation potential in Lebanon is linked to the physical mobilization of water and to the rehabilitation and modernization of irrigation infrastructures. An increase in the irrigated area can be achieved from surface water resources through the construction of storage dams and interregional transfers, for example the Khardalé dam over the middle Litani river (now postponed) and the 'Canal 800' conveyor for the irrigation of 15,000 ha in South Lebanon. More than 83 sites for possible dam construction, with a total capacity of 873 million m3, have already been prospected and are recommended for further investigation.

Future drainage development involves completing and achieving the calibration of the Litani river and its seven tributaries in the South Bekaa Plain, in order to reclaim about 1,500 ha of the waterlogged area, and to facilitate the drainage works in another risky area of 3,500 ha which is also exposed to frequent floods from rivers. Environmental issues, such as the preservation of marshy lowlandd for migratory birds, should also be given consideration.

Further reading

  • CDR/MHER/BTD-CADRES-Consulting Engineers. 1994. Rapid initial assessment of small and medium irrigation schemes in Lebanon. CDR, Beirut.
  • FAO. 1994. Irrigation rehabilitation and modernization project: Preparation report. FAO Investment Centre/World Bank Cooperative Programme Report No. 5/94 CP-LEB 8. Rome.
  • FAO. 1995. Agricultural infrastructure development project: Preparation report. FAO Investment Centre/World Bank Cooperative Programme Report No. 106/95 CP-LEB 9. Rome.
  • Geadah, Adib. 1993. Projet d'irrigation de la Bekaa-Sud: Etude de factibilité, document de travail en vue de la reprise des activités. Litani River Authority, Beirut.
  • International Bechtel Inc. and Dar Al-Handasah (Shair and Partners). September 91 - June 1993. Recovery planning for reconstruction and development of Lebanon (Phases I and 2). Report No. L9125/1-2. Beirut.
  • Jaber, Bassam. 1994. The water problem in Lebanon. Conference on the problems of water in the Middle East. Centre for strategic studies, research and documentation, Beirut.
  • Jaber, Bassam. 1995. The water resources in Lebanon. Conference on the environmental management for sustainable development in Lebanon. UNEP/LNCSR, Beirut.
  • Litani River Authority, Directorate of Studies. 1993. The Master Plan and the 15-year plan for the equipment and the exploitation of the Litani River Basin. Litani River Authority, Beirut.
  • Saadé Riad. 1995. 42ème rapport annuel sur la production agricole au Liban. Centre de Recherches et d'Etudes pour ['Agriculture au Liban (CREAL), Beirut.
  • World Bank. 1994. Irrigation rehabilitation and modernization project: Staff appraisal report. Report No. 13012-LE. Washington DC.
  • Water Profile of Lebanon, Food and Agriculture Organization.
  • World Factbook: Lebanon, Central Intelligence Agency.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Food and Agriculture Organization. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Food and Agriculture Organization should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



(2008). Water profile of Lebanon. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156961


To add a comment, please Log In.