Tal Abbas El Gharbi: A Project for Generations

Tal Abbas El Gharbi is one of the villages targeted by the UNDP project funded by the Government of Germany/KfW in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy and Water in support to host-communities suffering from the Syrian crisis. The project is reconstructing and upgrading the primitive earthen canals that are used for irrigation to improve water delivery.

Surrounded by the Ostouane River, which is its main source of water for irrigation, Tel Abbas encompasses 440 ha of agricultural land, almost 85% of the town’s total area. But this area is not well irrigated because water from the river does not efficiently reach the planted areas as much is lost along the way in the earthen canals that are still being used.

Theoretically, the Ostouane River should be sufficient for the irrigation of all the agricultural land, but the presence of non-efficient canals is posing challenges for the growth of the corps. “In lands where no earthen canals were even paved, the farmers mostly grow their products in the winter because water is available during that time,” said Mkhael Elias, a farmer in Tal Abbas. Moreover, during the summer season, farmers leave their lands due to water unavailability.

With shortfalls in agricultural productivity, families that depend on it are struggling as well. The town of Tal Abbas El Gharbi is highly dependent on farming with 2,250 residents’ primary income stemming from agriculture. Poor water delivery is forcing farmers to regularly buy water which is a financial burden for most families.

The demand on water is greater than the supply and the only way to equilibrate the scale is by improving the efficiency of the water delivery systems. In fact, according to the National Water Sector Strategy 2010-2020, Lebanon only utilize 17% of the 8 billion m3 of rain water that fall yearly, which is not enough to satisfy the whole population. In 2010, a deficit of 73 million m3 of water resulted from a demand of 1.5 billion m3 which exceeded the supply. If efforts are not put into optimizing the utilization of available water, the gap between supply and demand will grow greater especially with the increasing number of displaced Syrians. Therefore, projects to rehabilitate water infrastructure are highly encouraged.

On that basis, the KFW-funded UNDP project started restoring Tal Abbas’s earthen canals by replacing them with concrete ones, as well as constructing new canals near deprived lands. The project started in January 2017.  With these constructions, the town’s municipality would no longer need to build an earth-fill diversion dam every year across Ostouane River to divert the water to the irrigation canals. In addition to that, by reducing the gap between supply and demand, the farmers would reduce their expenses on water; and the country could see its yearly water deficit slightly cutback.

“The canals were constructed to last 100 years[…] the water can now reach 80% of all Tal Abbas’s El Gharbi lands, covering around 400 ha,” said Mkhael, “This doesn’t benefit me, it benefits my children and the children of my children,” he continued. The town of Tal Abbas has always been known to be agricultural and the people have been transmitting this culture from generation to generation. In fact, Mkhael’s daughter is currently studying agricultural engineering and is planning to come back and work alongside her father. Hence, the project does not only serve the current generation of farmers, it also benefits the many generations to come.

Prepared by Tamara Bou Chahine & Stephanie Nakhel.


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