Bisri Dam, Lebanon

Despite being advertised as the solution to Beirut’s water shortages, the dam will instead be extremely damaging to the environment -- destroying agricultural land, archaeological ruins, and livelihoods - and increasing the risk of an earthquake.


The Bisri Dam, currently in the phase of land expropriation, is being advertised as the solution to Beirut’s water shortages, and as an economic and touristic boom to the region. However, scientists and activists claim that the dam will not actually store water due to the karstic nature of the land and the big volume of alluviums all along the valley and river. Rather, it will be extremely damaging to the environment, besides destroying fertile agricultural lands. Experts say that the project will impact the natural environment by interfering with the natural flow of the river at a site considered a natural protected area in Bisri (based on Article 131/1998). It will also destroy archeological, historic, and cultural heritage throughout the project area, demolishing Roman ruins, the Mar Mousa church, and nearly 75 other archeological sites within its premises.

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Basic Data
NameBisri Dam, Lebanon
ProvinceSouth Governorate
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe Bisri Dam was initially proposed in 1953 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and was followed up by the Litani Water Bureau in the framework of water and dam projects on the Litani and Awwali rivers (also known as the Bisri river in its upper section), with some preliminarily studies done in 2000 by the CDR. It is located on the Bisri river between the Chouf and Jezzine areas, at 395m above sea level, and will forecast to have a storage capacity of 125 million cubic meters of water, the second largest after Qaraoun’s 210 million cubic meters. It will supply water to Iklim el Kharoub, central Beirut, and South Beirut through the Hadath and Hazmiey reservoirs, as well as well as reservoirs in Ashrafieh and Tallet Al Khayyat. It will also provide 11.2 MW of hydroelectric power.

The project is integrated with a downstream water supply network already under construction.  This includes constructing a conveyor tunnel, pipelines, a center reservoir and distribution networks for regional reservoirs, as reported by Elie Moussalli, Lead Project Engineer at CDR. The project also includes a water treatment plant in Wardaniyeh, all part of a prior loan by the World Bank worth $370 million.

As for the dam itself, $320 million is dedicated for construction, $220 contractors’ costs, $66 million contingencies, $10 million engineering, $20 million construction of a transmission line, $15 million construction of hydropower plant, and $150 million for expropriation of properties around the project. Another $4 million is allocated for overseeing and managing the project including environmental monitoring and impact assessment.

Around 570 HA of land will be expropriated and inundated, including 150 HA of agricultural land, 82 ha of pine woodland, and 131 hectares of natural vegetation. The coalition campaigning against the dam reports that around 150,000 woodland trees will be cut and that this number might go up to 500,000, besides agricultural orchards, labeling it an environmental genocide.

According the CDR reports and press releases by Mousalli, the area is not heavily populated besides a few seasonal farm workers living in tents, “mostly non-Lebanese” with “no permanent structures obstructing the project”. This, of course, is not true, and is the reasons why it has led activists to call the CDR the “council of lies”.

The project is part of the Greater Beirut Water Supply Augmentation project, which according to CDR reports aims to provide “Economically efficient” solutions to the severe shortages in public supply of water in the Greater Beirut area.

The CDR claims that measures have been taken to preserve the archeological and cultural components, in collaboration with the Directorate of General Antiquities (DGA) and the Maronite Diocese of Saida. These measures will be funded by the project and are already included in the cost of dam construction. Such measures will primarily rely on the relocation of the Mar Mousa Church, St. Shopia’s monastery, as well as some old ruined houses in the valley. Currently the CDR is looking for “storage areas” for excavated material until the DGA plans re-erection at an indeterminate time.
Project Area (in hectares)600
Level of Investment (in USD)1,200,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population4 million
Company Names or State EnterprisesDar Al-Handasah (Shair and Partners) from Lebanon
Relevant government actorsCouncil for Development and Reconstruction

Ministry of Energy and Water

Ministry of Environment

Ministry of Agriculture

Electricité du Liban (EDL)

Ministry of Public Works and Transport

Directorate of General Antiquities

Concerned Municipalities

Ministry of Social Affairs

Beirut and Mount Lebanon Water Establishment
International and Financial InstitutionsThe World Bank
Islamic Development Bank
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersMunicipality of Midane

Lebanon Eco Movement

The National Campaign to Protect The Bisri Valley (

A range of political parties also stand in opposition to the dam, including the Lebanese Communist Party and Citizens in a State
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Informal workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
certain political parties
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Soil erosion, Air pollution, Other Environmental impacts
Otherincrease in possibility of an earthquake
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Militarization and increased police presence
Potential: Violations of human rights
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Court decision (undecided)
Development of AlternativesDr. Samir Zaatiti recommends making more efficient use of underground water resources.

Dr. Roland Riachi, a lecturer at the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the American University of Beirut, proposes the construction of small to medium-sized urban collective storage ponds, filled by monitored springs and groundwater. According to Riachi, this would be a much more cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution than the construction of dams. This should be accompanied by increased regulation of groundwater resources, reform of government agencies responsible for the water sector, repair of infrastructure, and a reform of the water tariff system, and better wastewater management.

The municipality of Midane and Fathi Chatila propose constructing a dam in Damour on the Damour river. The hydro-geologist authored a complaint signed by around 50 residents of Greater Beirut and submitted to the World Bank panel titled: “Presenting a Much Better Project: Damour Dam.”
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The project has not been cancelled and construction works on the transmission network has started.
Sources and Materials

Bisri dam funded
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لقاء في بلدية مزرعة الشوف عن مشروع سد بسري
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سد بسري: مشروع مائي أم مالي انتخابي وسياسي؟
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[1] Article about the dam with locals' perspective
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فرعية الاشغال المكلفة متابعة موضوع سد بسري
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Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report
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Resettlement Action Plan, Official CDR Report
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World bank report on the Water Supply Augmentation Project
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Lebanon seeks firms for construction of Bisri Dam
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On the Damour Dam project
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The Beirut Water Project Gets Green Light Despite Warnings
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مشروعا الأولي وبسري على مشارف التنفيذ
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Questions & Answers: Water Supply Augmentation Project, Lebanon
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كيف صدر مرسوم سدّ بسري رغم رفض المشروع؟!
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مشروع سدّ بسري: «منفعة عامة» تضرّ «المصلحة العامة»
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Complaint against the project by Fathi Chatila
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سد بسري… مثالٌ للفساد العلمي!
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البحر يغزو منازل البيروتيين... فهل ينقذها سدّ بسري؟
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هل يكون سد بسري ضحية "تشريع الضرورة"؟
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معترضون على تقرير مشروع سدّ بسري: تزوير للحقائق وطمس للمعلومات
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When dams meet privatization: Lebanon under water transactions
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Lebanon’s dam obsession: Who pays the price?
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Beyond Rehashed Policies: Lebanon Must Tackle its Water Crisis Head-On
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World Bank dam will weigh on Lebanon quake zone
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Damming Lebanon: Bisri Valley to be submerged
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Media Links

Official Facebook page of campaign
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TV Report on the Bisri Dam
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Other Documents

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Meta Information
ContributorCatherine Moughalian, Asfari Institute & Rania Masri
Last update17/06/2019
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