Posted by: r.m. | May 30, 2014

Lebanon’s polluted rivers

Two new studies by Beirut Arab University and Lebanese University researchers show high concentrations of heavy metals, residue from olive oil production, dangerous bacteria and other toxins – evidence of untreated waste and illegal dumping in the Hasbani River in South Lebanon and the Lower Litani River Basin.


Much of the pollution found in the Hasbani was the result of olive mill effluent, a byproduct of the manufacturing of olive oil in the region, making the river particularly toxic in November when the olives are harvested and processed. A significant amount of contamination was also caused by untreated sewage dumped in the waterway. The olive oil waste was likely responsible for the high acidity, which can poison marine plants and animals. High levels of phosphates and sulfates were also detected, a result of runoff from agriculture and raw sewage, which can promote the growth of algae that starves aquatic plants and animals of oxygen. All the water samples collected from the Hasbani were contaminated with E. coli and other microorganisms – proof that untreated sewage is disposed in the river.”

Another study of the lower Litani River Basin found ““remarkably high” concentrations of metals in the river sediments – substances that are toxic to marine life and humans using the Hasbani’s water. … [The] concentration of heavy metals, such as copper, iron, cadmium and lead in the sediment exceeded international guidelines at various times during the year. High levels of heavy metals can be toxic to aquatic life. Cadmium is particularly toxic to humans.”


Estimates are that there are “over 700 illegal dump sites throughout Lebanon, with solid waste and sewage contributing to the contamination and industrial plants in the Bekaa Valley polluting the Litani.”

As a reminder: Less than 50% of households in Lebanon are connected to a sewage network, and, of those connected, only 10% are connected to a wastewater treatment facility that does not release the waste directly into the sea.




  1. That’s really sad … It is astonishing how in Lebanon people (majority) are ignorant regarding the environmental problems that may gradually threaten them. In general, the effects of polluted water (rivers) is not immediately seen. Water pollution has many negative effects on human health and species present in rivers (plants and animals). It is time for governments (or maybe each individual) to build waste treatment systems before more Lebanese rivers are depleted and polluted.

  2. […] studies conducted by the Beirut Arab University and the Lebanese University researchers have shown high concentration […]

  3. This article does not surprise me. I mean, we are in Lebanon, we are used to this, not just in Hasbani or lower Litani river. What frustrates me, however, is that governments always fail to take action. No suitable sewage treatment is done. Wastes continue to be dumbed in inappropriate places, consequently harming rivers and marine environments. The day will come, however, when we will regret what we are doing. We will be swimming in a pool of pollution and sewage. Only then, we will realize the consequences of our actions, but it will be just too late !

  4. we already knew that we had pollution in our waters but this is the first time that i know part of the exact cause , which is weird frankly . Always blaming some unknown but now that those researchers named sources from drilling activities, domestic and industrial waste and farming runoff and olive oil production ,All of these caused the accumulation of heavy metals in our water,.They did the most important and difficult part which is the full diagnoses the rest is easy we should put taxes in place for all the contributor. The olive oil production should be organized and limited by laws so that each producer recycles its products . And all other contributor monitored to clean our water and save our aquatic life . what is asked is very easy just out in place a laws .
    and the high number of known illegal dumb places through Lebanon well we need more military supervision and just a little thought about this problem once in while would be more than enough as this problem is increasing instead of decreasing. So we need the government to cooperate to solve this crisis

  5. Personally I am not surprised about the contaminated water. Actually, what surprised me the most is the exact percentage of treated water. The high majority is thrown as it is in the rivers and the sea. I don’t think it will take us a long time to regret our actions. By considering these two studies, we know now that the olive oil industry causing such a huge pollution to the rivers, beside other factors (e.g, sewage).The government should react by forcing the factories to treat their wastes, at least to stop the pollution at this point.

  6. It’s rather frustrating to keep on hearing about the contamination of water in Lebanon while we don’t see any real measures being taken to stop this alarming issue. Treating water would obviously cost the Lebanese more money than just simply throwing their wastes in water; however, not doing anything about water contamination will eventually backfire at us in no time. Consequently, waste water treatment should be a must in Lebanon (having only 10% is ridiculous and embarrassing to be honest) not only to conserve the marine life but also to protect human health.

  7. It is sad to see the problem of water pollution becoming a pervasive fact that we are living with these days in Lebanon. The production of olive oil is not limited to the area under study and i’m sure that if more comprehensive studies were conducted all over Lebanon we will see even more catastrophic results. In my view this can be attributed to several factors some of which are lack of education and awareness on the gravity of water pollution and how it can affect ecosystems around us. A further factor to consider is that the production of oil would become more expensive for the farmers if the waste was properly treated. Therefore, I believe that work must be done on two fronts. Firstly, the olive oil producers must be made aware of the gravity of the results of what they are doing. Secondly, proper treatment of the waste should be encouraged by the government by funding or at least tax cuts.

  8. As usual irresponsible, unthought actions are the cause of the pollution of our water. Nothing new. A combination of ignorance, indifference, uncaring, and irresponsibility could only lead to such a result. Release of toxins into the water affecting fauna, flora, and humans. I got it that the government doesn’t care at all about the environment, but even the population’s health? This is too much. High social class people, again, won’t be affected, but what about the low class who has no access to treated water??? This is so inhuman!!! As if it wasn’t enough for them to destroy the environment they are also destroying people’s life. Thanks to these researches we are aware about the effect of the olive oil production. In this way, we need to take action and make a change. We can’t just read and feel sad, we need to do something. If we are going to keep blaming the government about their useless presence, and hoping for them to take action, we will not get anything. We cannot sit and wait for them to take action by their own. We need to bring awareness, make campaigns, in order to force them to come up with a solution. Maybe they can come up with a solution for the sewage and water treatment, and use their ”power” to force the factories to treat their waste.

  9. I’ll start by commenting on the last statement of the post, more than 50% of households in Lebanon are not connected to a sewage network!! Really dear government?? More than 70 years have passed since our “independence”, and still nobody has found a way to connect all households to a sewage network that must treat this sewage? Why is that so hard, knowing that we already have the studies for a project like this! After knowing a fact like that, I think it’s very predictable to have polluted rivers in Lebanon. In my opinion, studies should be made on all rivers in Lebanon, not to see if they are contaminated, but to make sure that they are!
    Another point I want to emphasize on is one of the causes of this pollution: oil production! Our nation is not that industrialized, so if a basic industry like making olive oil has brought this much pollution to rivers, can you imagine what bigger and more massive industries can cause on the level of environment and public health? Having an incredibly high bad and short-term management of everything that we do, makes me very thankful that we don’t deal with more than olive oil on the level of the industry. I mean we all know it’s not impossible to treat industrial wastes, but it’s easier (and maybe more profitable for some capitalists) to just throw them in the river, without taking into consideration the health of citizens.
    To take the topic a little bit more towards medicine, here are some facts on water quality and health according to the WHO:
    So we can have an idea about the wide variety of diseases that a bad management of industry and agriculture and absence of treatment of sewage can cause, ranging from simple diarrhea to cancer.
    If I were to give a solution to that problem, in addition to connecting all households to a sewage web and treat wastewater, I’ll give one that Mr. Shaheen gave in his article: “enforce penalties on illegal dumping”. By making people pay for their mistakes, the amount of these mistakes will be much lower, especially in Lebanon were paying is not a thing that citizens love to do. However, I do not really know to what extent this can be applied in a country were you can escape from prison just because you know some “important” person, so imagine how much knowing that person can help you to escape a simple fine.

  10. Water pollution has been a serious problem since a long time ago. Realizing the causes is the first step toward finding the best solutions. In addition, I think that preventing water pollution is more essential now than finding solutions. If we start at the small scale we can cease the increase in water pollution and then we start finding the accurate solutions. Meanwhile, we should work on preventing water pollution by involving as much as we can each and every person on earth. Involving the government is something basic. Many governments have very strict laws that help minimize water pollution. These laws are usually directed to industries, hospitals… also, many organizations and groups should educate people on the dangers of water pollution.

  11. ”Less than 50% of households in Lebanon are connected to a sewage network, and, of those connected, only 10% are connected to a wastewater treatment facility that does not release the waste directly into the sea.” This is an absurd!! What kind of government do we have? What type of future is waiting for us? This is really disappointing, and sad. What about the people who don’t have wastewater treatment facility? Something has to be done. Corruption has to end. It is the main cause of the ecological problems Lebanon is facing. The population is partially responsible for the climate change, but the Lebanese government is not providing sewage or water treatment, and is even inducing fires, which means it has no interest about the environment. This has to change. Not only animals and plants are being affected and intoxicated, even humans!! There must be a law that forbids industries from releasing waste and toxins in the rivers and seas. Polluted water is of great concern, the government has to do something about it because no one else has power over the big industries.

  12. It is a shame to waste significant amount of water to the lack of management and pollution. However, studies are being conducted on the possibility of using micro algae as a natural way to filter the water. I hope they can come up with applicable results soon.

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