|Water delivery to NEST (22 Aug. 2017 – Beirut)|
If I were to choose one thing to invest in here in Lebanon (something from which I could easily get rich), it would be water. I would go out and buy a fleet of those big tanker trucks that were ubiquitous all over the city during the hottest days of summer, and sell water to all of these meaninglessly tall buildings that are filling up every inch of open space in Beirut. You might ask, “Are there no water pipes in the city? Aren’t buildings connected to the public water supply? Shouldn’t there be plenty of water, as the city is right on the sea?”
Well, yes, yes, and yes. Lebanon is a country rich in water resources. It has rivers and rainfall, lakes and, of course, the Mediterranean. But it suffers from resource mismanagement. And not just the water, but all of its resources, natural, man-made and human. For example, in 2019 I’ll be writing a post about waste mismanagement, because there is a trash collection crisis scheduled for that year. But for now, I’m just going to talk about water.
The Mediterranean Sea, as seen
from the American |
University campus (7 Aug. 2017 – Beirut)
A recent study by the United Nations noted that despite the surplus of water sources in the country, people are still obliged to buy water or dig private (and mostly unlicensed) wells, or both. And all of that is resulting in an ever-increasing salinity of the water that comes out of the tap. So, late each night, and early each morning, and throughout each day this summer, one could hear the rumbling of water tanker trucks through the streets of the city, parking in front of this building or that, hoisting its hose up to the rooftop cisterns, and emptying its precious cargo. Not to forget, this is just washing and bathing water.
Drinking water is a different story. You have to either buy single-use plastic bottles of water (more about plastic below), or subscribe to a local or multi-national drinking water company, whose trucks trundle through the streets all year round, delivering 18.9 litre jugs of water for your home or office water cooler/heater. We trust that these companies have done the necessary purification and filtration work, so that we do not also have to install a carbon or ultraviolet or some other type of purification system. Hopefully.
Another study has noted that Lebanon only has the capacity to store 6% of its total water resources. In so many ways, Lebanon is a land of contradictions, and water is no exception. It has the highest average rainfall of any Middle Eastern country, has more water than it needs, yet has the least water storage capacity of any Middle Eastern country. And the impact of a couple million Syrian refugees in a country of four million significantly reduces the possibility of averting the projected “chronic water crisis” due to arrive in 2020 [info. from “Far off the target”, p. 70, Executive Magazine (Beirut), April 2017 issue]. Yet there are individuals and embassies that have a vision for a verdant Lebanon, and are working on projects that will help it reach that goal.
Some of the wetlands in the Ainjar spring, as seen
an Armenian-owned restaurant (10 Sept. 2017 – Ainjar)
So what about plastic and water? Or plastic in water? A news report in The Guardian on Sept. 6 of this year quoted an investigation done by Orb Media concerning plastic microfibers found in the water used and drunk in cities all over the world. Guess what? Lebanon came in #2 in contamination rates (93.8%), slightly behind the “winner”, the U.S., whose contamination rate is 94.4%, but well ahead of #3, India, at 82.4%... a race I wish we'd lose. The study recommends further research into the effect of ingesting, breathing and drinking plastic microfibers, but also suggests that in the meantime, until the results are back, the use of plastic be decreased the world over. “Plastic is forever” is a helpful, though simplistic, reminder of the challenge we face in responsible resource management. But what do you do when there are virtually no facilities in your country for recycling plastic and so many other materials? Ah… another topic for another blog entry.
The most precious resource of all, however, is human, without denigrating the natural and other resources that cry out for careful management. We are seeing up-close the constant hemorrhaging of young, talented youth from the country. Some, though not all, make a wholehearted effort to establish themselves in a career, to plan marriage and family, but find the entrenched interests here an impregnable wall above them and around them. They often promise that they will only go away to work for a few years at a decent wage, and then return in order to help Lebanon progress, but we have yet to see that happen. What we have seen in our eight months here is several of our young friends make that move, to the Arabian Gulf countries, to Australia or Europe, or to the U.S. and Canada.
As one of the most important (and last viable) centers for the Armenian diaspora, and a bastion of the cultural life and language of Western Armenia, the issue of human resource management here in Lebanon is not merely important; it is a life-and-death issue. Schools here are trying valiantly to continue their essential work of inculcating Armenian identity in the young, while all too many families are distancing themselves from that culture and pursuing a French, or Arabic, or English environment in which to steep their children’s inner worlds. This, too, is a form of mismanagement, based on the view that one must sacrifice one’s identity to live a “successful” life.
There’s a reason why you don’t hear |
the term “watchcat”. Behold, LebCat 7.
(25 Aug. 2017 – Beirut)
While Maria and I pour ourselves into our work, we are mindful that we are also doing “resource management”. Our aim is to inspire young people to live a life of purpose, and to fuel that, to live a life based on vision. In order to do something that matters, something that will strengthen others as human beings, and as members of a specific culture group (like Armenians), you have to first have an aim far above yourself, and thereafter you can make your daily choices and sacrifices. We try to show by example that, “Let’s try this path and see where it takes us” is a poor option for those who truly care about their people’s future. We are learning new lessons about trusting God in all of this.
Enough musing. For now.
There’s an expression in English, “Never send a boy to do a man’s job.” I’d like to coin a new expression, “Never send a cat to do a dog’s job.” Take a look at LebCat 7, and you’ll know what I mean.Our time as permanent residents of the Hamra area of Beirut has come to an end. We’ve been living here at the Near East School of Theology since our arrival on Feb. 1. Tomorrow we’ll be moving to the Ashrafieh area, to start a new set of adventures. More stuff to write about! [LNB]