Hope Restored to “Marwaheen” Farmers
The main component of the project entitled “Reclaiming the Traditional Water Conservation Practices in Rural South Lebanon: The Case of Marwaheen Village”, is the rehabilitation of the village pond. This has been fully embraced by the municipality of Marwaheen and the local community who contributed in the implementation of the project. The pond currently functions as a communal water reservoir where all farmers have excess to use this resource for irrigating their fields. This fact has contributed to a remarkable increase in vegetable farming which, according to the mayor of the village, Mr. Mohamad Obeid, has risen from 12 to 25 dunums in one year. Moreover, the technical department unit at the Union of Municipalities of Tyre has shown sincere appreciation on the approach and achieved results and thus, is using the Marwaheen Pond project as a model to promote the revitalization of rainwater harvesting as a sustainable model for rural economic development.
- The pond currently functions as a communal water reservoir where all farmers have excess to use this resource for irrigating their fields.
- This fact has contributed to a remarkable increase in vegetable farming which, according to the mayor of the village, Mr. Mohamad Obeid, has risen from 12 to 25 dunums in one year.
In South Lebanon, many traditional water reservoirs were damaged or under severe threat due to the impact of wars or rapid urban sprawl. As a result some have been filled with debris from demolished houses and converted into ‘village parks’. Thus, traditional practices for efficient management of water resources are being abandoned or at best replaced by environmentally wasteful ones. This is all the more alarming considering the growing awareness of water shortages in the semi-arid villages of southern Lebanon. In the village of Marwaheen the pond was neglected due to several reasons, including several wars and the fact that the bottom of the pond was a dirt pond which made upkeep very difficult. Its capacity was around 13,000 cubic meters with considerable losses to infiltration and perimeter walls in disrepair. The pond had become a source of nuisance and a site for sore eyes to the village.
The project was made possible through the Every Drop Matters program, a joint effort program between UNDP and Coca-Cola. The Lebanese Center for Water Management and Conservation in the Ministry of Energy and Water had the task of oversight and project review while the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service, CCECS, at the American University of Beirut, AUB, was in charge of design and implementation. The Municipality of Marwaheen played a critical role in the implementation of the project as it made available its own equipment and manpower to assure a successful project. The pond rehabilitation included removal of dirt from it bottom to increase its capacity, in fact doubling its capacity. This was followed making its floor impermeable to redue loss of water through infiltration through the use of concrete which would also facilitate future access to the pond and maintenance. The final stage of rehabilitation included strengthening the perimeter walls and raising them to improve visual impact and reduce the risk of falling in. The last phase of the project included an inclusive community based water management awareness campaign in order to raise awareness on viable methods of rainwater harvesting and to set the path towards economically sustainable agricultural practices in Marwaheen. At the present time, tobacco is still the main cultivated crop because it is subsidized by the government. However, without subsidization by the government, tobacco is unprofitable and leaves families only with a fixed income per year. With the increased access to water, farmers will be able to more profitable vegetable farming and other alternative crops.
The achievements of the project are tangibles in the form of doubled capacity of the village pond, providing an increased source of water to farmers which resulted in an increased area of vegetable farming from 12 to 25 dunums. The intangibles are many and include re-instilling pride in traditional means of water conservation such as rainwater harvesting, an opportunity for increased income from vegetable farming in place of fixed income tobacco farming, strengthening the bond to the rural community by providing viable means of survival in the village setting, and providing a model for other communities in the south.
The increase of income among the listed achievements has benefited the 1,500 residents of Marwaheen with a potential for a ripple effect to other towns in the South of Lebanon. The relative success of this project has led the residents of Marwaheen to be proud of this achievement and along with the AUB have fostered ownership with an incentive for ongoing capacity building at a larger scale. In fact, the CCECS at AUB has developed a full concept for an agriculture technical school to be based in Marwaheen that would build the capacity of local farmers in profitable alternative agriculture which would provide increased income and gradually move the farmers away from their dependency on tobacco farming.
The project has a direct impact on ensuring environmental sustainability, MDG 7, by increasing the access to water and reversing the loss of environmental resources with the capture of an increased volume of rainwater which would have been lost.
The project model can be easily replicated in several other villages in the south and other parts of the country as it is based on traditional practices with low technology and maintenance needs or costs, resulting in prolonged project sustainability. This project certainly serves as a good practice and a model for other countries, especially those in the Arab region and post-conflict states that will experience similar challenges due to climate change.