Water is wonderful stuff, when you can get it.
I’ve now gone 2 weeks without a good supply. I say a good supply but what I mean is that if I can wash my hands, brush my teeth or (heaven forbid) have a 2 second shower in my house then it’s a good day. Since I arrived back from the UK 2 weeks ago for me, Lebanon has been dry.
Lebanon is a country of contradictions – its a phrase you’ll hear a lot when people talk about many of the countries in the Middle East of which here is no exception. There is the contradiction between the ‘situation’ just over the border in Syria and the full nightclubs along the coast. There’s the contradiction between the opulence of Downtown and the slums around Beirut’s edge. Almost every story we write here has contradiction at its core – the divide between those that have something and those that are just trying to get by without.
However, as a western foreigner here we tend to live fairly well and rarely meet the discrimination that many face on a daily basis but this than is the first time that I’ve found myself as one of the ‘have nots’ in Lebanon, the first time that I’ve been on the wrong side of the divide.
Last weekend I couldn’t wash at home but spent Friday night in the mountains at a pool party and then Saturday at a 14th floor hot tub party. It seems that water for some is not rationed.
It’s no hand of god that decides whether you are flush or not, it is largely your postcode. I live in a fairly normal neighbourhood in central Beirut that is a mix of the retired and young families. It’s by no means a deprived area but it’s a long way from rich. However, in Lebanon it seems that the people who I live around do not matter enough to warrant an uninterrupted flow. Maybe we just don’t have enough collective ‘wasta‘.
Today Nicolas, who looks after my flat, came past to check up on me and I ask him about the water, “This morning” he says, “The man came past in his car to give people the money for the water. $20 each family, for everyone, because we have non.” I jokingly ask where my $20 is and he laughs, “You just missed him, that’s all” he says. Nicolas couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell me who the man was but I can probably guess – this was no official water bill rebate but more likely the ‘man’ this time was working for a local politician or business man who’s just here to just help out. It might not be a lot but it goes some way to ensuring you keep voting the right way (when there are votes to make) and so people don’t claim that the leaders of your sect aren’t looking out for them – in short it’s a combination of buying people off and PR to make individual politicians look good in the eyes of their sect or local constituents.
Maybe as the summer presses on and the heat cranks up other areas will start to suffer, the rich will join the rest of us and languish as the great unwashed – there certainly is an issue in Lebanon and it’s not going away. This winter saw less than half the usual rainfall; next to no snow fell on the mountains. Then there is the added pressure of a million extra people who have escaped the Syrian conflict and now call Lebanon their temporary home.
The chance of a government intervention to solve the issue is unlikely as they are too busy arguing over who is going to be president, and until that’s sorted nothing else can be considered.
But it made me think. Rather than finding a real solution to the water shortages – and many have been suggested, from importing it from Turkey, improving efficiency in the water grid, upgrading farming equipment to be more efficient or just digging more wells – Lebanon struggles on. How many ‘men’ in how many neighbourhoods have made the $20 rounds? How many thousands have been handed out to pay people off?
In the face of the issue the only ones who profit are the private water trucks that deliver tank loads for around the amount we were given in bribes – although what they give you is often dirty, grimy and very far from clean enough to wash in.
Sadly, the truth of the matter is that it’s a vicious cycle. There is too much in-fighting in government to issue a directive to solve our water woes so there’s no incentive to push the ministries into action, besides there’s so much corruption and miss management there that there isn’t so much left to invest in improving efficiency anyway.
Today some of that corruption was released onto the streets of Beirut, but I for one would have preferred it going into fixing the problem not buying me off. I for one would prefer a decent shower.