5.1. Lebanon: From Focusing on Israel to Emphasizing Refugees
This section aims at capturing the discourse in Lebanon generated by the influx of refugees in relation to the water sector by applying Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) Framework. Lebanon has been suffering from severe water crisis. This water crisis, as recently shown by several scholars, can be traced to many reasons including climate change, government mismanagement of water resources, and conflict with Israel. Moreover, Lebanon is hosting 947,063 registered Syrian refugees [31
], and about 500,000 unregistered Syrian refugees [32
]. It hosts the highest number of refugees per capita worldwide (according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)) 173 refugees per 1000 inhabitant); more than one-fourth of the population living in Lebanon is Syrian [32
]. As for the Beqaa region, the population of Lebanese and Syrians is now roughly the same. Most displaced Syrians—about 341,408—live with Lebanese host communities, mostly in Baalbeck and the Upper Litani River Basin [31
Concerning the second aspect of our analysis, which according to our theoretical comparative framework, focuses on identifying what discourses are dominant in the water governance debates in Lebanon concerning the water crisis after the Syrian War; we found that the mainstream dominant discourse we have registered in interviews with academics from institutions based in Lebanon and in the public declarations of governmental officials, shows a narrative that focuses on population growth, especially due to the sudden influx of refugees. This is what Fairclough would call the discursive practice, as this is the discourse present in public declarations, and in private conversations and interviews [10
]. The textual dimension of this discourse appears in donors’ reports, governmental press releases and academic articles on the topic. According to this discourse, the population growth resulted in an increased water demand, which reduced the availability of adequate water to the local residents of Lebanon. As mentioned by Lebanese scholars in “the Guardian”, “Lebanon, which has many rivers and water sources, is water-rich compared to Jordan, Israel or much of Syria. But the amount of renewable water available in the country has dropped from more than 1000 cubic metres a year per person—considered the threshold of water poverty—to around 700 m3
per person since the refugees arrived” [33
]. In our interviews, it emerged that the current belief is that although many of the refugee communities in Lebanon have minimal access to water, the cumulative effect created by their large number has led to overexploiting the country’s water resources. Interviewees argued that as an illustration, in informal tented settlements the demand on water resources was increased due to larger reliance on trucked water obtained from unregulated and illegal pumping from surface and subsurface sources and illegal network tapping. This intensified demand for water has increased competition over available water resources in the Beqaa in particular, and the Lebanon in general.
The negative impact of refugees on the water sector is seen, in this narrative, as having two components: on quantity and another on the quality of water resources. In fact, the Lebanon Environmental Assessment of the Syrian Conflict and Priority interventions (EASC) divides the impacts of refugees on water resources into two main items categories: quality and quantity. Regarding water resources, the biggest impact studied and emphasized by the Lebanese Ministry of Water and Energy is the depletion of water resources. According to the EASC, the refugees’ main sources of water are the public water network, wells and public reservoirs, which would increase the stresses on water resources in general and on groundwater in particular. Studies included in the EASC have also confirmed the depletion of water from both surface and groundwater sources. For instance, according to the Litani River Authority (LRA), the basin of the river has witnessed, and is still witnessing, a decrease in the water volume since the start of the Syrian Conflict. Moreover, the large demand on water supply has led to notable pressures on coastal aquifers in Lebanon. The second impact concerns water quality deterioration [20
]. According to several studies by the EASC, the bacteriological quality of water in some areas showed ten times higher levels of contamination than the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines [34
]. According to a study “Assessing the Contribution of Demographic Growth, Climate Change and the Refugee Crisis on Seawater Intrusion in the Tripoli Aquifer”, seawater intrusion will be noticed as it would move forward inland, leading to salinization of the aquifer. This is said to be mainly due to climate change and the high demand of water caused by the influx of the Syrian refugees [35
Concerning the third aspect of our analysis which focuses on identifying which discourses were dominant in the water governance debates in Lebanon concerning water crisis before the Syrian War, our interviews indicated that the Lebanese governments’ discourse often addressed the topic of the water crisis as a national security issue, specifically emphasizing that the issue of water scarcity in the country was linked to transboundary water governance, especially with the State of Israel. This was mainly done with the help of two discourses. The first one was the water diversion theory which was broadly presented in the news, governmental publications and speeches for many years. As shown by Amery, this theory claims that Israel dug a tunnel linking the Litani River to its borders during 1982–1984 [36
]. Although this argument was later retracted by the Lebanese government, it was accepted by the people for many years, and the government has used it to distract the public and justify most issues concerning water [37
]. The second discourse concerns the damages regarding the infrastructure of the water sector inflicted by Israel during the several Israeli–Lebanese wars. This narrative was used repeatedly by the Lebanese government to redirect public attention from government mismanagement and inefficient policies to external factors [22
The current discourses often emphasize the link between the influx of the Syrian refugees and the dysfunctional water sector. There has been an abundance of stories in television, newspapers, political parties’ speeches and conferences during the last eight years in Lebanon [36
]. For instance, in an interview with “the Guardian”, the general director of hydraulics and electrical resources at the Ministry of Energy and Water of Lebanon stated: “because of the Syrians, a water balance that should have been negative in 2030 is negative now,”. “We were organized to fulfil water demand management for about 4.5 million (people). We were not ready to deal with the one-and-a-half to two million extras that have come already” [37
]. Although the influx of Syrian refugees is a main constituent of the failure of the water sector, it has shed light on the real factors underlying water security and scarcity issues and changed governmental discourses. These factors include: The overexploitation of groundwater due to the high demand, the severe depletion of the water table across the country, salt water intrusion in coastal areas, and the deterioration of the quality of the available water [38
]. From this, it emerges that the discourse of refugees has altered the Lebanese government narratives about the malfunctions and failures of the water sector from a regional blame-model to a domestic blame-model, shaping in this way the debates on water governance in the country [39
These shift in the state water narrative perceivable the government response to the refugee influx, which is expressed in the “Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP)” developed with its international and national partners. In the water sector section, the LCRP notes that “In the wake of the crisis, the focus necessarily switched from resource management to emergency relief to address the needs of an extra 1.5 million displaced Syrians dispersed in hosting communities” [31
]. The plan’s core strategies and operations concerned the water sector crisis in many aspects, informing in this way the water governance agenda, options and debates in the country. In addition, UNHCR has worked with the Water Establishment and municipalities to ensure continuous access to safe water at a household level and basic sanitation facilities [40
Concluding this part, it appears that the water discourse in Lebanon is essentially politically driven, and can evolve with changing conditions such as election and internal political considerations.
The narrative of Lebanese politicians regarding the Syrian refugees changed drastically in 2016, and in the lead-up to the 2018 parliamentary elections, fueling rising tensions and framing refugees as the cause of unemployment and instability [44
]. For instance, according to the Daily Star, a Lebanese MP blamed the Syrian refugees in the Beqaa Valley for the increased pollution of the Litani River. During a news conference, he affirmed that wastewater from the Syrian refugee camps was one of the main causes leading to the river’s pollution stating that “this pollution has increased with the presence of the Syrian refugee camps in huge numbers on the banks of the river in West Beqaa,” [45
]. This narrative especially intensified after the parliamentary elections, as many politicians including the speaker of the Lebanese parliament repeatedly demanded the return of the Syrian refugees to Syria. They appealed for Arab help to facilitate the return of refugees and to pressure the Syrian government into taking them [46
]. The UNHCR reports that after the parliamentary elections, host communities’ demand to force refugees’ return to Syria was amplified, shaping the governance debates and narratives in the country. Currently, many Lebanese municipalities, with the help of local police, tightened their restrictions on Syrian refugees [47
5.2. Jordan: A Multifaceted Refugees’ Narrative
The second case study considers the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan because it is said to be the second most water scarce country in the world; and because since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, Jordan has opened its borders to waves of Syrian refugees. In fact, it is currently hosting 655,000 refugees registered with UNHCR [48
], although the Jordanian government estimates that the number of Syrian refugees is higher, and usually refers to 1.4 million Syrians in the country, which also includes the number of Syrians that were living in the country prior to the crisis and those not registered with UNHCR.
Concerning the second aspect of our analysis, which according to our theoretical comparative framework focuses on identifying what discourses are dominant in the water governance debates concerning the water crisis after the Syrian conflict, we found that the Jordanian government’s general discourse on refugees underlines that catering for their needs and ensuring their access to key public services, including health, education, municipal services and water, has impacted heavily on Jordan’s finances and ability to deliver quality services for all [49
]. The Jordanian government has also calculated that the direct cost of the Syria crisis on Jordan is around USD 10.2 billion since 2011 [49
]. While there are different views on the extent of the impact of the Syrian refugees on water resources, interviews showed that governmental discourses emphasize that, especially since the Syrian refugees crisis, groundwater depletion is accelerating due to over-pumping beyond the aquifers’ safe yield, and the water tables are dropping precipitously. For the interviewees, as water levels decline, salinity rises, negatively impacting the quality of the shrinking groundwater resources.
In the Jordanian discourses, the Syrian crisis is seen as an additional pressure to the scarce water resources of Jordan, and refugee demands layer over long-standing challenges of scant supply, unsustainable management, and out-of-date infrastructure. Over the past years, large-scale investments—deeper wells, bigger pipelines, dams’ construction—have bought Jordan time [50
Yet, by reading the Jordanian newspapers and listening to Jordanian policy makers, the impact of the Syrian crisis seems to have sped up the clock [51
]. As a result, by analyzing governmental declarations in national newspapers and strategies since 2011, we have identified one governmental narrative about refugees in relation to water resources, and one main implication on the water governance debate. This is the discursive practice of Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis Framework, and it originates from the textual dimension which in this case is represented by press releases of the MWI, academic articles on the topic, and in particular governmental reports and documents, such as the updated version of the National Water Strategy published in 2015, and donors’ reports on the topic [4
The first discourse underlines that the Syrian refugees have increased the water demand in the country, therefore contributing to and exacerbating water scarcity in Jordan. In fact, in October 2014 the then Minister of Water and Irrigation (MWI) Hazem Nasser said that Jordan had borne the burden of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, stressing in a statement e-mailed to The Jordan Times that the influx of refugees caused water demand to increase by 40 per cent in the north, 10 per cent in Karak in the south and by more than 20 per cent of the Kingdom’s average water demand [52
]. In a similar statement earlier in the year, the Minister had also clearly identified how such impact had negatively affected the national projects and strategies. “We are operating the Disi Water Conveyance Project at 92 per cent of its capacity, which is a figure we planned to reach in three to four years,” he noted. The Disi canal project connects the Disi Aquifer, which is shared between Jordan and Saudi Arabia, to the Greater Amman region. Through this canal, water is being pumped for a distance of around 325 km, and it has been operating since July 2013, aiming at providing drinking water to the capital, where most of the water demand is concentrated. He underscored that hosting thousands of Syrian refugees “ruined” the ministry’s strategies and plans, which were replaced by “emergency plans” formulated every summer [53
]. In fact, he underlined that the plans of how to use the Disi water changed, from serving the demands of the capital to also serving the Zaatari refugee camp and to the northern districts, where refugees are mainly concentrated. This means that the Disi water is being over-exploited, and will last for a shorter period than the one initially planned for.
While some light variations can be noted in such discourse over the past years, depending on the political circumstances, the overall message of this narrative has remained the same over the years. This can be noticed even recently from the statement by the former Minister of Water and Irrigation, Ali Ghezawi: “The Syrian exodus has fatigued us. Despite all efforts to explore new water resources, the gap between supply and demand remains substantial” [54
]. The emphasis of this discourse is often placed on the refugees’ influx as an external factor that increases the demand of water, but that also negatively affects the supply. In fact, the Jordan Response Plan 2018–2020 notes for instance that “non-revenue water is as high as 50%–70% in the hard-affected governorates by the crisis, mainly due to the poor condition of the networks as a result of extreme pumping pressure arising out of the increased demand on water. Water and sanitation vulnerabilities have increased because of the refugee crisis, […] the water demand increased by 40% in Northern governorates […], and the frequency of the water supply in some locations reduced from once a week to once every four weeks, resulting in a daily per capita share 50% less than the standard” [49
The second element of the first discourse is that Syrian refugees are wasting the Jordanian water resources because of their different lifestyle when it comes to water use. Interviews showed that whereas Jordanians have rationed water since the 1980s, refugees from comparatively water-rich Syria lack the basic habits of water saving and conservation. Jordanian families wash clothes and do dishes, quickly shower, and store enough to get through the week. Refugees arriving in Jordan do not always quickly adjust, and many lack basic habits of conservation [50
]. For this reason, several development agencies (e.g., the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)) have launched awareness campaigns and projects to enhance water conservation strategies, in collaboration with the MWI.
Concerning the reflections of this discourse in the water governance debate, the use of the refugee narrative appears to be a leverage to call for support from the international community: in 2014 the Jordanian government in partnership with the United Nations (UN) and the broader donor and NGO community developed the first response plan. The National Resilience Plan, and especially the following Jordan Response Plans, were short to medium-term strategies to address the impact of the Syria crisis both from humanitarian and resilience perspectives. On average, every year from 2014 to 2018 the Jordanian government requested around $
240 million for a total of about $
1.2 billion for the water sector alone (Data was extracted from the individual Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Program (WASH) sectoral financial needs of the National Response Plan (2014–2016), replaced and followed by the Jordan Response Plans (2015; 2016–2018; 2017–2019; 2018–2020). The plans can be found on the website of the Jordan Response Platform for the Syria Crisis). Government officials continuously exerted pressure on donors—by using the refugees’ discourse—to bridge the funding gap, noting that otherwise refugees’ and local communities’ needs would not be met, thereby risking worsening humanitarian and living conditions. At the National Conference on Water and Sanitation organized by the MWI and UNICEF in 2015 for instance, the then Minister Nasser stressed that “if the required funds ($
750 million for 2015–2017) are not secured, there will be a negative impact on Syrian refugees’ health, security and environment” [55
]. Such discourse was reinforced in 2018 by Minister Ghezawi, who expressed on several occasions his dismay over the international community’s “low level of response, below the needed level” to Jordan’s challenging water situation [54
]. The refugees discourse also further emerged in the updated version of the National Water Strategy of Jordan in 2015, informing and shaping the water governance debates in the country [55
]. Moreover, another important recent implication on the water governance debate has been the switch of priorities to ensure water security in the country: from the Disi project (now completed) and a regional Red Sea—Dead Sea project with Israel and Palestine, to a desalination plant in Aqaba and a Jordan National Water Carrier (without a regional dimension, also due to the latest political relations between Israel and Jordan, which have deteriorated in the past two years). While in the past donors were attracted by the regional dimension of the project and they would have not considered a Jordan-only project, Jordan is now emphasizing that this project is needed to meet the water demand of all refugees and Jordanian citizens in the country. As such, desalinizing water would benefit the refugees as well, making the project more appealing to the donor community.
Concerning the third aspect of our analysis, which according to our theoretical comparative framework focuses on identifying what discourses were dominant in the water governance debates concerning the water crisis before the Syrian conflict, we found in the interviews to academics and governmental personnel that they had as their main textual dimension the previous National Water Strategy of 2008 “Water for Life”, and as main discursive dimensions: population growth due to refugees from Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq; low precipitation; transboundary nature of water resources and treaties not always respected. Moreover, donor reports and interviews to academics and donors showed also a discourse emphasizing water mismanagement, with particular focus on non-revenue water, leakages, water theft and an inefficient agricultural sector [4