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Board Approves Panel Recommendation Not to Investigate Lebanon Water Projects

The World Bank Board of Executive Directors on December 6, 2018, approved the Inspection Panel’s recommendation not to investigate the Water Supply Augmentation Project and the Greater Beirut Water Supply Project (GBWSP) and its Additional Financing in Lebanon.
The project development objective of the Water Supply Augmentation Project is to “increase the volume of water available to the Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon area.” The project component subject to the Request involves the construction and construction supervision of the Bisri Dam and associated infrastructure. The GBWSP finances in part the construction of a water tunnel conveyor that is to supply the Greater Beirut area with potable water and supplemental studies on sector areas in alignment with the priorities set forth in the country’s National Water Sector Strategy.
A Request for Inspection of the projects was received on August 6, 2018, from Lebanon Eco Movement, a network of 60 environmental non-governmental organizations, representing 42 local inhabitants, workers and community representatives. The Request also included as attachments a petition signed by 1,500 residents of impacted villages and an online petition with 2,200 signatures of people from Lebanon and other countries. The Requesters, who asked for confidentiality, expressed concern about the construction of the Bisri Dam on the Awwali River in the Bisri Valley in Lebanon, and claimed that the assessment of alternatives was inadequate. They alleged harm to natural habitats, forests, cultural heritage, agriculture, and water sources, as well as a lack of consultation and participation. The Requesters also were concerned about the geology and seismology of the project area.
World Bank management submitted its Response on October 12, 2018, describing the severe water supply shortages that plague Lebanon. Management indicated that no single source can fulfill the water supply needs of the Greater Beirut Mount Lebanon area and that a combination of various dams and non-dam alternatives is required. The Management Response stated that the project Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was prepared according to Bank policy, and that that an extensive analysis of alternatives was undertaken as part of the ESIA. Management further stated that a Dam Safety Panel (DSP), composed of world-class experts, was established for the Bisri Dam. According to Management, the DSP’s recommendations have been incorporated into the detailed design and bidding documents, and both the DSP and the Bank have reviewed and approved the design and safety plans. Furthermore, the Management Response stated that the Environmental and Social Panel (ESP), composed of internationally recognized experts, reviewed in detail the environmental, social and archaeological aspects of the project. Management stated that it will continue to monitor the implementation of the project and will maintain open and inclusive dialogue with all stakeholders. 
The Panel conducted its eligibility visit to Lebanon from October 14 to 18, 2018, holding meetings in Beirut and visiting the project site in the Bisri Valley. During this visit, the Panel received a document titled “Request for intervention (involvement) in the proceedings of the above request for inspection submitted by ‘Lebanon Eco Movement,’” The document was submitted by the “Committee of Inhabitants in the surrounding villages of Marj Bisri” and signed by 16 individuals. The submission included several annexes with additional documents and video clips supporting the Request for Inspection.
The Panel’s eligibility report to the Board focused on the Water Supply Augmentation Project, which supports the construction and construction supervision of the dam. In its eligibility report, the Panel did not recommend an investigation.
The report noted the many valid concerns of the community, including the analysis of alternatives and the concerns focusing on the undervaluation of biodiversity and archaeological values of the Bisri Valley.  The Panel particularly took note of the understandable serious concern that community members have expressed regarding the uncertainty surrounding the safety of the planned dam, especially considering its location in an earthquake-prone area. 
However, the Panel understands that the dam has been designed according to state-of-art design requirements and has undergone vigorous seismic hazard assessments, though it observed that information dissemination specifically addressing the safety of the dam has been weak and that more can be done to adequately inform affected communities to alleviate their concerns and anxieties.
The Panel also took note that several studies are currently under way to address the concerns related to biodiversity and archaeological heritage. It welcomed Bank management’s commitments to take several actions to address the concerns raised in the Request, including further strengthening the consultation process and maintaining a high frequency of supervision missions and site visits, continuing engagement with relevant stakeholders, ensuring that progress on the various action plans is documented on the public project website every quarter, and making additional efforts to further increase participation of women in consultations. 
In making its recommendation to the Board not to investigate, the Panel considered Bank management's commitment to further strengthen the consultation process and to complete the actions outlined in its response, as well as management’s confirmation that the two international panels of experts (DSP and ESP) will continue to provide support to the project.