Water Intelligence for a more sustainable use of a crucial resource

Written by Nadine Sander, on 27 September 2018

The Litani River rises from the fertile Bekaa Valley and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The river is an important water resource in the South of Lebanon and provides irrigation water for the local farmers. The Bekaa Valley also hosts a great number of refugees, and the increase in population means that there is an increased demand for water.

How to manage water more efficiently?

Historically speaking, Lebanon is a country that has been blessed with plentiful precipitation to fulfil the demand. Yet due to a severe decrease in rainfall and the unsustainable use of water by the government and population, the country has been desperately seeking answers to the question: how can this crucial resource be managed more efficiently?

Water Intelligence Near East, also known as WIN, is a project conducted by IHE Delft in cooperation with the Litani River Authority, the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS), the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) and the UN Food Agricultural Organization (FAO). The aim of the project was to provide a method for achieving consistent and reliable water data from satellite remote sensing by using a remote sensing method to calculate the water accounts and water productivity which was validated with local field data from the Litani River Basin and the Bekaa Valley. This remote sensing method was then shared with local project partners through training sessions. Those who followed these training sessions will then have the ability to train others to ensure that the remote sensing method will be repeated throughout the following years and thus contribute to improved regional water management.

A gap between water productivity and water accounting

Ali Nasrallah, a PhD candidate at AgroParisTech (Paris Institute of Technology for Life, Food and Environmental Sciences), who does his research under the CNRS, and is specialised in crop-modelling and remote sensing techniques says that “we are suffering from water scarcity, water pollution, and non-efficient use of water by farmers. Although we are a country that receives a good amount of rainfall normally, we do not really account our water use. We do not have a clear vision on how to save water, on water productivity or how to limit the amount of water needed without affecting our yield”. Dr Talal Darwish, former director of the National Center for Remote Sensing in Lebanon, specialised in agriculture and soil, explains that there is a problem with over-pumping. “We do not have the means to control the discharge and pumping from private wells. These private wells are spread throughout the agricultural plane, and they are unlicensed –. The government, other stakeholders and we (as CNRS) are observing the dropdown of the groundwater-river in the main aquifers. We realised there is a gap in Lebanon regarding water productivity and water accounting”.

Mr. Nasrallah attended all the workshops and training sessions that WIN offered to advance his research project on wheat cultivation, conducted under the National Center for Remote Sensing (CNRS). “I am trying to implement the data and technique I was trained on within my project. The ultimate goal is to have significant impact on the ground. I try to assist the farmers, especially those who use huge amounts of water. Actually, I see them frequently, I go to the field to gather data almost every week. I try to make them aware of their actions”. 

For his project, he is using remote sensing techniques to classify winter wheat and to create an automated model to classify the spatial distribution of wheat fields in Lebanon. This wheat classification system has already been implemented by the CNRS and the Ministry of Economics for subsidising the wheat farmers. In addition, he is monitoring the wheat development stages using radar images, and lastly, using crop modelling to assess or forecast the expected yield and its water requirements to be able to use water in a more sustainable manner.

What are the plans after the project

WIN also saw the participation of the Lebanese Ministry of Energy and Water, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture. “Because the ministries were also actively participating in this project, I think they now can make a concrete plan to tackle water scarcity and they are better able to take decisions regarding sustainable water management and the use of water,” Dr. Darwish says. “Actually, they expressed that they want to continue with this work and not to stop cooperation with stakeholders at this stage”. They are implementing their knowledge into their practices. “The Ministry of Energy and Water is now focussing their efforts on water accounting, the Ministry of Agriculture is focussing on water productivity, and the Ministry of Agriculture is focussing on depollution of the river, land management, preventing the deterioration of land quality in the Bekaa Valley”.

As regards to the local stakeholders “we are definitely continuing after the project has ended, using the data from the project as a training model to continue the crop mapping” Dr. Darwish says. The National Center for Scientific Research has compiled the whole process of water accounting, crop mapping and water productivity and is working on making it more user friendly. Additionally, they are publishing a yearly “bulletin”, a recurring report, in which this information is published. “We are working on a bulletin covering all crops and trying to also convert this system into an early warning system with a direct link to the farmers. We are also launching a bulletin on forest fires with the Forest Affairs of Lebanon”.

As for the National Center for Remote Sensing “we are focussing on wheat, and when we finish, we will focus on potatoes – the largest crops in Lebanon. We will implement a remote sensing methodology on these strategic crops”. After their current PhD candidate, Mr. Nasrallah, has finished his research, Dr. Darwish is planning on taking on two new PhD candidates. “One will work on water productivity, and the other one on water accounting”. The results of their researches will be integrated into the platform of the CNRS, which is accessible for other Lebanese institutions. “So the database and results are always shared”.

The project has been greatly successful in strengthening the capacities of the Lebanese stakeholders and now the focus will shift onto the general public. “We are thinking of moving closer to the farmer, to focus on their capacity and have them implement our knowledge,” Dr. Darwish remarks.

This story has been written by Kimberly Wakkary (Jan - Jun 2018 intern of DUPC2)

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