NNA - Head of the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI), Dr. Michel Efram, has been giving warning after warning, for over 15 years now, on climate change and what it brings along of strange climate phenomena, notably the recently witnessed hail episodes, floods and torrential rains sweeping over Lebanon in June, raising climatic red flags.
Today, Efram is sounding the alarm again, publishing a new report on climate change, water shortage and nationwide pollution.
"The Agricultural Research Institute has all types of specialized laboratories that enjoy international credibility. Enough claiming that the State does not own efficient laboratories," he first stressed, in an interview with the National News Agency.
"Lebanon has long traversed the brink of danger and crossed the red line. It may eventually reach the point of no return for the following reasons: Climate change, as the lack of rain and snow have become a sad and difficult reality -- despite the recent late rainfalls that have zero affect on underground water storage. The rainfall average has been below normal for several years, snow ratios are dropping significantly, and rain patterns are abundant yet extend over a short time, a thing which causes floods," he explained.
"We suffer a lack of surface water and a shortage of groundwater that has dramatically decreased in various areas. Because these waters are imperative for the future, and urgently need to be preserved, we must stop the drilling of wells, especially those that dig 150 meters deep into the ground," Efram warned, suggesting a series of solutions to the water crisis, on top of which collecting rainwater in ponds, building small dams, digging wells in floodwaters and rainwater and leaving them open (while protecting them from pollution, dust and stones) so as to allow rainwater and rain to feed groundwater, in addition to rationing water use in cities, factories and agriculture.
In Efram's words, the Lebanese ought to fully understand the impacts of climate change to be able to deal with them in the future. "They have got to realize that water is a very precious resource that should never be contaminated or wasted."
The LARI Director stressed that "despite all the denial uttered by many references, Lebanon's water is mostly contaminated in varying degrees; the pollution is bacterial and chemical, with significant ratios of heavy metals, particularly mercury," pointing out that the Institute has conducted a survey on the quality of water across Lebanon and reached a dramatic outcome: 100% pollution.
"We often found the three pollutants listed above. There is no river, spring, or area safe from this pollution. Not only the Litani or the Bekaa, but also the North, Akkar, the coast, the mountain and the South. Every drop of water ought to be examined for it may be contaminated," he went on to say, stressing that cleaning up the streams of contaminated rivers would remain useless "unless we eliminate all the sources of pollution that have led to such a contamination, ie wastewater treatment plants and solid, liquid, agricultural and industrial waste."
"The Institute has conducted studies which confirm that water from sewage can be used in agriculture, once treated, and can be pumped into rivers."
According to Efram, this pollution can affect every aspect of our lives: our homes, schools, factories, restaurants, hospitals and institutions, as well as the agriculture and industry sectors.
"Water pollution is becoming a threat. If water quantities are dropping and pollution is mounting, the future of water quality is nothing but dark. (...) The most serious of issues is pollution with heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead," he corroborated, revealing that "there is not one place along the beach completely pollution-free -- from the far north through to the far south -- but there are less polluted places. It is no secret that all the coastal and mountain areas' sewage ends up in the sea, not to mention the waste that is being thrown in there."
Deeming waste "a germ bomb", with what it contains of chemical, bacterial and heavy metal contaminants, according to the results of tests carried out by LARI, he asserted that sea water, like the rest of Lebanon's water, is contaminated with bacteria, chemicals and metals.
Moving on to soil and agricultural produce pollution, Efram explained that, "as a result of the use of sewage and contaminated water, and the uncontrolled use of fertilizers and agricultural medicines (some of which banned globally and smuggled), we discovered an accumulation of chemicals and heavy metals in the soil, (...) and thus in vegetables."
"Lab results have shown 34 times more chromium and cadmium in parsley and mint irrigated by polluted river water."
Pertaining to food contamination, imported food products or live animals do undergo laboratory tests, but this issue, according to Efram "poses many questions in the absence of strict border control, in addition to working with private laboratories that are unreliable and questionable, what causes the emergence of germs such as Salmonella and Listeria, or chemicals such as fungal toxins, etc."
"It is shocking how, whenever the Fanar labs issue results showing samples' lack of conformity to Lebanese standards, [they] rush into changing the results or re-examining different samples! This is what the Institute categorically rejects," he said.
"I have decided to speak up about this because I consider it my duty to explain to the Lebanese the threat it poses on their lives and future. This is my main responsibility. The abovementioned details are extremely dangerous, hence the need to declare a state of water, environmental, health and food emergency," Efram concluded.