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El Qaa: Fighting the Exodus

El Qaa: Fighting the Exodus
Situated on the Lebanese-Syrian borders, El Qaa is the last village on the Baalbek-Homs road. In Arabic, El Qaa means “reassuring fields”, while in Syriac it is equivalent to “a wide valley or flat ground”. Before the 1950’s, Al Qaa was a small village that hosted a maximum of ten houses. After that, the town experienced a period of prosperity with a growing population and an expanding economy based on agriculture. At the time, the water flowing from Al Labweh Spring was more than enough to irrigate all the agricultural lands, and satisfy the resident’s water demand.

During the civil war, the town witnessed massive exodus, to come back and prosper after the war. In the past years, the Al Labweh Spring water amounts had been legally restricted; leading water extraction to be limited to only 52% in order to distribute it in a fair manner between neighboring villages. However, the amount of water allowed to Al Qaa is not enough to irrigate all the 600 ha of agricultural land. To make things worse, the volume of water flowing through the primitive canals was considerably reduced because of water seepage from the cracks in the earth and concrete. These challenges caused problems to the residents who depend on farming for a living, because they were forced to buy water to irrigate their crops, thereby increasing the cost of their products. This lack of water security negatively impacted the farmers as their products could not compete on the market.

With water shortage, many lands experienced severe states of drought, thereby discouraging farmers to cultivate their land. Bashir Matar, the head of Al Qaa Municipality, described the poor water situation as a “secondary state of exodus” that followed the one caused by the war. As a result, all efforts were leaning towards improving the irrigation system in order to encourage Al Qaa’s displaced inhabitants to come back and cultivate their lands. In addition to that, the town’s water system was under pressure and unable to cope with the 2,000 displaced Syrians that took refuge in the town, which only worsened the situation.  Mr. Matar called for measures to be taken urgently in order to solve this water crisis.

For these reasons, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) worked with the municipality of Al Qaa on renovating and constructing the irrigation canals in the town, which were funded by the Government of Germany, in coordination with the Ministry of Energy and Water. This project is an initiative that improved the water irrigation system and strengthened water security, which will pave the way for a more sustainable economy and development for the town of Al Qaa.

The project replaced earthen canals with more than 8 Km of concrete ones which reduced water losses, increased the volume of water transferred to the agricultural land through the canals, and improved crop productivity. As a result, higher amounts of water are delivered now to farmlands (800 ha directly and indirectly). The concrete canals also prevented weed growth, and carried cleaner and less contaminated water to the lands.

In addition to that, the construction work for the canals created jobs for the displaced Syrians and the Lebanese population alike, and decreased the charges paid for water supply to irrigate their farms.