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The reservoir and irrigation network provides a steady supply of water year-round to some six towns and surrounding farmland. Before the project, farmers could only irrigate limited sections of their property and grow few crops during the summer months. Now, beneficiaries cultivate more land and harvest a much wider variety of crops, including water-intensive produce such as apples, apricots, berries, peaches and many vegetables.

A major component of the project’s design — and a key to its success — has been ensuring the local community takes meaningful ownership of it. The Pontifical Mission requires beneficiaries to cover the operating costs as well as handle the day-to-day maintenance of the reservoir and irrigation network. To do so, beneficiaries established an agricultural collective.

“All members of the cooperative contribute to the upkeep fund, and therefore they feel more ownership of the project,” says 55-year-old Youssef Habshi, a Deir El Ahmar resident, farmer and member of the collective.

“We built the lake and network of pipes and provided a few hundred meters of irrigation pipes,” says Imad Abou Jaoude, an engineer and deputy program manager at the Pontifical Mission’s Beirut office. “We also provide $3,000 to $5,000 loans at low interest rates, so that they can buy additional drip irrigation pipes.”

The project has jump-started the local economy and is helping to revitalize Deir El Ahmar. Residents have pooled money to build a new church dedicated to St. Charbel. Still under construction, the Maronite church stands on a once desolate lot. Now, a lush, landscaped lawn and garden cover the grounds. On summer afternoons, locals often gather on the cool lawn in the shadows of the church to relax and take refuge from the sun’s sweltering rays.

“Water has brought us back to the lands,” says Mr. Habshi. “It has breathed life back into the community, and now it assures the completion of our church. What’s more, now I can afford to move back from Beirut and retire here.”

The reservoir is just one of many water projects the Pontifical Mission has spearheaded in Lebanon since 1993, when it became a key nongovernmental partner in the country’s post-war reconstruction. In the early days, the agency focused on restoring damaged water systems in rural communities, to ensure clean drinking water as well as to irrigate farms. In recent years, projects also include water collection and sewage treatment.

CNEWA’s Pontifical Mission is among a handful of charities and international organizations working to improve Lebanon’s water supply. But their combined efforts remain but a drop in the ocean, so to speak, given the country’s overall water situation.

“The current annual demand is around 1.35 billion cubic meters [35.7 billion gallons],” says Dr. Selim Catafago, president of the Litani Water Authority, a government agency that manages the public water infrastructure fed by the Litani River — Lebanon’s largest river and a principal source of its fresh water supply. “The annual supply capacity is around 80 percent of the needs in an average wet year, and around 60 percent in a dry year.”

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