Lebanese Town Fights to Stop Foreign Embassy from Digging Illegal Water Well

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Yarzeh, Lebanon
February 13, 2015

An influential resident of the town of Yarzeh, which overlooks Beirut, and the Emirati Embassy in Lebanon are digging water wells, in violation of a municipal decree.
Digging wells was banned because it threatens water supplies in the neighbouring town of Baabda.
Concerned residents and the head of the municipal council in Yarzeh have petitioned the Lebanese authorities to stop the drilling. However, there are suspicions that the authorities are under pressure “from outside Lebanon” that prevents them from stopping the drilling.

TRANSCRIPT

SOUNDBITE (Man, Arabic) Bassam al-Qintar, Environmental Expert
00:07- 00: 22
“There are hundreds of thousands of wells that cover Lebanon’s surface from the north to the south. There is not been anyone in Lebanon who has not drilled a well. This is leading to the loss of Lebanon’s strategic water reserves.”

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Henry al-Helou, Head of Baabda and Yarzeh Municipal Council
00:27 – 01:24

“All the wells in Yarzeh need to be closed. When wells were dug in Yarzeh, there was a water shortage in Baabda. Previous municipal councils raised complaints to the concerned ministries. This is why there was a decision to ban well digging in Yarzeh. You are saying that there are wells being drilled; we have fulfilled our duties. You mentioned that Emirati Embassy and Mia Ayyoub [are digging wells]. The land where the Emirati Embassy [is being built] belongs to a foreign country and follows special regulations. As a municipality, we do not have the right to interfere with them. We have to refer to the concerned authorities about that. We cannot address this issue at the municipality. Concerning Mia Khoury – Mia Ayyoub Khoury – the well she is digging is adjacent to the main well Baabda. This is not allowed.”

SOUNDBITE (Arabic) Recorded phone conversation
01:29 – 01:58

  • Hello
  • Who is this?
  • Are you Mr. Noel?
  • No. Who wants to talk to him?
  • We are from Transterra Media. We talked to him on Friday about an interview concerning the well being dug in his garden.
  • There is nothing, there is nothing…
  • We spoke to him on Friday, and he said that he will get back to us but he did not. I would like to know if they would like to talk in front of the camera.
  • I will tell him, OK.
  • I need to know because we want to film today. [Speaker hangs up].

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Woman) Claude Serhal, Resident of Yarezeh
01:59 – 02:32

“If you ask around in Baabda, you will be told that it is not allowed to dig any wells because they are worried about the water supplies. Each house in Yarzeh cannot have an individual well. There are problems. People need to abide by the law.” Some people say: ‘We are in Lebanon, where anything can be done.’ You seek someone’s help and they will let have whatever you want. On the other hand, what is happening to our environment? It is being sabotaged.”

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Woman) Jumana Ossaily, Director of the Yarzeh Development Association
02:34 – 02:54

“It is not allowed for each citizen to obtain a license to dig a well. If a well is dug at an embassy, for example, what could the rest of the Yarzeh’s residents do? Does each one of us has the right to dig a well in his garden?”

SOUNDBITE (English) – Reporter speaks to construction workers
02:55 – 03:16

  • Can we take pictures of the embassy?
  • No, no. It is not allowed.
  • What is this here?
  • I don’t know. Talk to [staff] members. I am a guard.
  • When did they start the work?
  • I don’t know, about a week ago.

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Woman) Jumana Ossaily, Director of the Yarzeh Development Association
03:17 – 03:25

“I think the problem is that there is large pressure from outside Lebanon. The head of the Municipal Council cannot stop this and neither can we.”

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Henry al-Helou, Head of Baabda and Yarzeh Municipal Council
03:25 – 03:38

“We have followed the necessary procedures. We petitioned to the Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Company, and we demanded that the well digging be stopped. That was on February 4, 2015.”

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Woman) Jumana Ossaily, Director of the Yarzeh Development Association
03:39 – 03:56

“We sent a petition to the governor of Mount Lebanon. We sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior. We sent a letter to the Emirati Embassy and we tried to have an appointment with the Ambassador to address this issue, but we did not receive any reply.”

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Woman) Claude Serhal, A Resident of Yarezeh
03:57 – 04:14

“This is a message to anyone in Yarzeh who is not applying the law. We cannot make exceptions for each person, whether this person is Lebanese or not.”

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Woman) Jumana Ossaily, Director of the Yarzeh Development Association
04:14 – 04:41

“‘I hear some Yarzeh residents say when they see that other people are digging wells, ‘Why can we not dig wells, too?’ If I went to the Emirates and decided to dig a well – even if I represented an embassy – I know that I would need a permit. What should I do then? Should I break the law? What would they do to me if I broke the law?”

SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Woman) Claude Serhal, Resident of Yarezeh
04:42 – 04:49

“In the future, what will happen to Lebanon – not only Yarzeh – if everyone did whatever they wanted?”

SOUNDBITE (Man, Arabic) Bassam al-Qintar, Environmental Expert
04:49 – 05:17

“Each year, we are extracting water from wells at a pace that is depleting underground water. We have a very long summer and short winter and precipitation is scarce. If we carry on extracting underground water at the same rate, we will have a very severe drought and water resources will became salinized. A large number of these wells have already dried up.”