KFARNABRAKH: Enhancing Emir Bashir’s Canal

Prepared by Tamara Bou Chahine & Stephanie Nakhel.

Kfarnabrakh is a village in Chouf, Mount Lebanon that lies between two large springs, Al Barouk and Al Safa. This agricultural town hosts 8,000 permanent residents and 800 Syrian refugees. Kfarnabrakh is located between 600 and 1100 meters in altitude; providing the village with various types of lands and a microclimate. Since nearly half of the town’s area is dedicated to agriculture, the town is highly dependent on farming with approximately 1,800 farmers and their families benefiting from it.

The town is characterized by a very special 150-year-old underground canal, which was named “Al Mir” by the locals, because it was built by Emir Bashir Shihab II. This ancient irrigation canal is surprisingly still in service. What’s even more fascinating is the story behind this canal. Back when Emir Bashir was ruling (1789-1840), he needed to draw water to his castle in Beiteddine, but he could not figure out a way to do so quickly and cheaply. After many unsuccessful consultations, a man named “Akhwat Chanay” (Chanay the “village fool” or “jester”) suggested that the prince order his people to stand in line all the way from Al Safa River till the castle and make each person dig. And so water was successfully drawn to the castle and the canal has been working ever since. The water currently flows from the Safa spring in the underground channels and then to the surface canals that irrigate the agricultural lands.

One would think that given the town’s position between two big rivers, it would have more than enough water to irrigate all of its 500 ha of agricultural land. However, the outdated surface-canals that deliver the water to the lands are not delivering enough because they are old and most of the concrete is cracked, causing water seepage. This is not a problem that only Kfarnabrakh is facing; unfortunately, most rural towns are suffering from irrigation-water losses as a result of the aging canals.

Accordingly, this issue as well as other pertinent water problems, are tackled in the Ministry of Energy and Water’s (MoEW) National Water Sector Strategy (NWSS), which was issued in 2010. Funded by the Government of Germany, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and with the cooperation of the Ministry of Energy and Water (MoEW), the «Support to Host Communities in the WASH Sector» project falls within the NWSS’s objective “To ensure water supply, irrigation and sanitation services over all the Lebanese territory on continuous basis and at optimal service levels, with a commitment to environmental, economic and social sustainability”. Through that project, Kfarnabrakh’s farmers are being supplied with enough water for irrigation as old surface canals that cover 300 ha of land are being rehabilitated.

Mohammad Saayfen, a farmer and a member of the municipal council in Kfarnabrakh expressed his gratitude for the project and expects the project to bring about a positive change for the agriculture sector: “Before the canals were rehabilitated, the farmers would wait two to three hours for the water to arrive from the source to the lands because of the major water leakages the canals were subjected to. But now, they only wait 30 minutes. Now, if we pour one liter of water at one end of the canal it goes out as one liter at the other end. This helped the farmers a lot as the time required for irrigation dropped as well. There is a 90% improvement in my opinion and that is great for me as a farmer. I am expecting to see places with more trees and crops by next year. I am also expecting a boost in the motivation of people in regards to farming because water is more accessible now”.

Improving water accessibility is diminishing the burden farmers carry when it comes to cultivation. With a greater flow of water over a larger area, farmers can cultivate more crops, minimize resource squandering, and reduce production cost. By renewing part of its infrastructure, Kfarnabrakh is reducing water losses; thereby contributing to a more sustainable economy and development, all the while enhancing the functioning of the historic Emir Bashir II canal.

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