World Bank cancels Bisri dam project in Lebanon after years of community resistance

10 December 2020

The World Bank cancelled its controversial Lebanon Water Supply Augmentation Project on the Bisri River in south Lebanon on 5 September. The Bank had partially suspended financing in June over concerns about the government’s failure to complete the ecological compensation plan and arrangements for operations and management of the dam, which were preconditions of the loan. The project faced ongoing resistance from the local community and environmental groups, amidst economic turmoil in Lebanon after its first sovereign default in March (See Observer Autumn 2020).

The World Bank agreed to co-finance the dam with a $474 million loan in 2014, alongside the Islamic Development Bank and the government of Lebanon. Construction on the dam, due to be completed in 2024, is yet to begin, and $244 million in undisbursed funds from the Bank have now been cancelled. According to a World Bank factsheet, it had “repeatedly raised” concerns over the project since January.

The Save the Bisri Valley campaign, co-founded by The National Campaign to Protect the Bisri Valley and the Lebanon Eco Movement (LEM) in 2018, launched a public petition in November 2018 that urged the Bank to cancel the dam, calling it “destructive” and “land-greedy”, citing harms to the natural habitat, cultural heritage and safety. In June 2019, LEM submitted a ‘request for inspection’ of the project to the Inspection Panel, the World Bank’s accountability mechanism, which was not accepted.

According to news site Arab News, activists from around the country set up camp in an attempt to prevent construction until the project was scrapped. “The cancellation of the Bisri Dam project is very symbolic for Lebanon because it challenges policies that have devastated our environment for years, often encouraged by international financial institutions such as the World Bank,” said Roland Nassour, co-founder of the Save the Bisri Valley campaign.