Bar Elias Litani Pollution, Lebanon

people in Bar Elias used to drink and swim in the Litani River. Twenty years ago, the river started to get severely polluted due to factories and household wastes being dumped in the stream in the river causing many health problems for locals


Bar Elias, a village in the Beqaa valley, comprises 3,500 hectares and 35,000 citizens. The Litani River passes through the city of Zahle and enters Bar Elias. In Bar Elias, and other Bekaa villages, people used to drink and swim in the Litani River 20 years ago, according to the Member of Parliament Assem Araji. However, today factories and sewage lines are dumping all their wastes in the Litani stream without prior treatment. This has produced a problem affecting the lives of people in Bar Elias, who are suffering from diseases due to the pollution of the Litani River. Bad odors fill the area. Cancer rates increased dramatically in the last years.  Consequently,  people began to mobilize against the pollution in the village in Fall 2016 after the local organizations, clubs, and the National Committee to Save the Litani River called for action against the pollution. Different local bodies were organizing and mobilizing to pressure the government to find solutions for the Litani pollution in Bar Elias. In May 2017, citizens of Bar Elias and various organizations rallied together and established a new coalition under the name of “We don’t want to be killed by the Litani.”  Zahle is the main city in the Beqaa valley. It is the home of dairy, construction, and chemical factories. Due to the absence of regulations and enforcement mechanisms, these factories dump all their wastes into the stream of the Litani. Moreover, no municipality has a sewage network that refines and treats the water. All household wastes go directly with all the impurities to the Litani River. Citizens of Bar Elias partially blocked the river stream coming from Zahle by piling dirt and muds. They wanted to pressure the government through connecting the citizens of Zahle with the citizens of Bar Elias in the suffering. After this step, the Minister of Environment visited the village on the 16th of May 2017 and promised to solve the problem as soon as possible. This was echoed by the Prime Minister a couple of days later, when he said, “The pollution of the Litani River has become a national cause, and the government has allocated large amounts of money for cleaning the stream of the river,” he added “many procedures have already started, and others are still on the way.”           Nothing has been done.

Basic Data
NameBar Elias Litani Pollution, Lebanon
SiteBar Elias
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Aquaculture and fisheries
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific CommoditiesWater
Domestic municipal waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsIn order to resolve the pollution issue in Bekaa, multiple water refining plants should be built on the Litani basin. Bar Elias municipality is mainly affected by its own sewage, and the sewage coming from Zahle's factories and households. The Government has established a water treating plant in Zahle. However, it is not functional yet because it needs electrical power to work, and the government is not able to supply continuous electrical current. The Italian government donated to build the plant in 2003, and in 2017 it donated funds again to supply power generators. This plant is supposed to treat 20% of the total wastes dumped in the Litani River; the plant would treat 37,000 cubic meter of sewage each day when it functions. After the continuous protests held by the local citizens of Bar Elias, the government according to to some activists from Bar Elias and to a social media outlet that covers Bekaa news, the government provided four electrical generators for the water treatment plant in Zahle. The outlet posted on the 1st of July that the generators were provided by the Council of Development and Reconstruction (CDR) as promised by the Prime Minister. However, the date that the plant will start operating in is still unknown. When the refining plant starts functioning, the issue in Bar Elias will be solved partially until all other municipalities start their own refining plants and stop dumping wastes into the Litani River which affected the people of Bar Elias dramatically.
Project Area (in hectares)1,400
Level of Investment (in USD)250,000,000
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population35,000-300,000
Start Date23/10/2016
End Date09/07/2017
Relevant government actorsThe Litani River Authority

Council for Development and Reconstruction (

Local municipalities

Italian Government
International and Financial InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersNational Campaign for the Protection of the Litani Basin

Green Area (Website:
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Food insecurity (crop damage), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Waste overflow, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights, Other socio-economic impacts
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood
Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Development of AlternativesThe alternatives developed by the ejos, are similar to what the government has proposed but never applied. Ejos are demanding the government to clean the river, and operate the water treatment plants.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Locals have been suffering from the pollution of the river for years now. The government supplied the main water treatment plant with four electricity generators according to General Mohamad Kheir (the head of the High Relief Commission). General Kheir said that the refining plant will start to function soon after he supervised the successful trial functioning of the refining plant last week. But we cannot be sure whether the plant will start to function soon.
Sources and Materials

The Cold War, the US Bureau of Reclamation, and the technopolitics of river basin

development, 1950—1970


تلوث نهر الليطاني… بدون أقنعة وبلا قفازات
[click to view]

السرطان يفتك بجيرانه: حماية الليطاني تنتظر الدراسات
[click to view]

Litani pollution causes local outrage, distress
[click to view]

تلوّث نهر الليطاني نحو الأسوء… وقانون تنظيفه لا يُفرج عنه
[click to view]

Polluted Litani River awaits cleanup plan
[click to view]

مأساة برالياس مع السرطان.. تلوث الليطاني وارتفاع مستوى المعادن
[click to view]

Farmers skeptical of role in Litani River pollution
[click to view]

مأساة الليطاني تتوالى فصولاً والبقاعيون يصارعون الموت البطيء!
[click to view]

حكاية محطة تكرير المياه المبتذلة لزحلة وجوارها والحل المؤجل 14 سنة... من المسؤول؟
[click to view]

بر الياس تغلق الليطاني: إشراك زحلة بالوجع من المجارير
[click to view]

Data for cancer frequency by country
[click to view]

Media Links

وزير البيئة: لإنقاذ بر الياس من السرطان

A video showing the visit of the Minister of Environment to Bar Elias
[click to view]

Other Documents

Litani River became a dump
[click to view]

Litani River became a dump Litani River became a dump of all types of garbage and wastes including dead animals
[click to view]

Litani River became a dump All types of wastes can be seen in the river, plastic rubber, household garbage etc...
[click to view]

irrigation pollution the same polluted water is used for the irrigation of the agricultural crops in the basin of the river
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorHussein El Mouallem, Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship, AUB
Last update13/07/2017