Iaat is a town and municipality located in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon in the North eastern part of the country with an area of about 42 km2. Administratively related to Baalbeck-Hermel Governorate (Baalbeck district), which the capital Baalbeck city comprises an impressive archaeological sites designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984.
Iaat is famed for its richness in fresh water resources, which unfortunately have dried up in recent years due to the poor water management and climate change. Also, is known for its natural (Al-Massil, Wardine, Berket Al-Louz) and archeological sites as the ancient Roman road that passes through, where a Corinthian victory column stands in the middle of the road.
The total population of Iaat is estimated at around 22.000 inhabitants (Source: Iaat Municipality), among them 12.000 Syrian refugees, most of them live in sporadic camps.
Iaat and Baalbeck district is a semi desert area characterized by hot and dry summers and cold winters. The annual rainfall average is 450 mm/year and the altitude is 1040 m.
The Iaat fresh water sources, underground and superficial, was considered the richest in the area. Many springs were overflowing with large amount of water. And it was sufficient digging tens of meters to reach the underground water. There are two water basins from which the town benefits, a northern basin that extends to the headwaters of the Litani river and southern basin that feed the springs in the area.
Intensive pumping through the last 10 years has caused lowering of the basins’ water table and consequently decreasing the water quality.
About 200 wells were drilled in the area, most illegally, which farmers use it to irrigate their agricultural lands. 95% of these wells are of limited capacity, pumping water from a depth of about 100 m, and only 5% of these wells reach more than 500m depth, which are the wells with high pumping capacity.
One well, owned by the Municipality, pumps water all over the year and represent the only source of fresh water for urban use. All the rest of the wells are used for agriculture activities, pump for about 5 months, from May to September.
The Municipality estimate that the amount of ground water pumped for agriculture reaches yearly about 9 million m3 (60,000 m3/day during 5 months in summer) while unfortunately no exploitation of surface water including the treated water resulting from Iaat waste water treatment plant.
The Iaat waste water treatment plant established in 2005 in Iaat to give service to Baalbeck city and 8 towns including Iaat, represent the most serious environmental problems in the region. Due to design errors or misuse, the plant does not work well. The treatment process is for domestic waste only, not industrial waste, the preliminary phase does not have grease removal capabilities. Urban sewages and industrial liquid waste go into to the plant, and get out polluted water from it, with an unpleasant odor. A lake and a long channel of stagnant water can be seen snaking through kilometers of farmland in different town, creating damages for peoples, environment and agriculture land which generated conflicts between different villages and different communities.
All Iaat lands are flat and suited for agriculture like most of the fertile lands in the Bekaa valley. The soil texture provides a great potential for crop production. The cultivated lands in Iaat is about 4000 ha, most of which are cultivated rain-fed Leguminosae (lentils, chickpeas …) and Gramineae (wheat, Barley …). As for irrigated lands that represent only 10%, mainly cultivated with potato and onion in addition to some stone fruits orchards. These lands are irrigated from May to September with underground pumped water, which consumed unfairly the groundwater and higher the cost of production. Most lands are irrigated using surface irrigation method wasting large amount of water, while modern irrigation systems (drip irrigation or sprinkler) are limited.
As well, the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, especially in potato cultivation, has a major impact on groundwater pollution in addition to sewage pre-treatment plant and polluted treated water post-plant that some farmers use illegally to irrigate crops. The Municipality and security forces are suppressing this practice.
- decline in water table level due to excessive underground water pumping;
- the springs dried out, resulting in disappearance of natural sites;
- Leaking of polluted water in the southern water basin, coming from waste water treatment plant
- increasing on the pollution ratio in underground water, including microbiology, BOD and Nitrite.