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“The deficit is projected to widen,” warns Rayan Makarem, a campaigner at Greenpeace Lebanon. “Unless the government enacts major reforms in its water sector, demand is expected to reach 2 billion cubic meters [52.8 billion gallons] within the next decade.”

Waste, says Mr. Makarem, lies at the root of the crisis. “Current irrigation practices allow for a 50 to 60 percent loss by evaporation. In the public infrastructure, there is a 50 percent loss through leaks,” he says. “Among the people, there is a ‘when there’s water, let’s use it’ attitude. There is a lot of waste in washing the streets and leaving taps running needlessly.”

The country’s unsustainable number of wells — most dug illegally during the civil war — also contributes to the shortage. According to Greenpeace Lebanon, the country’s hundreds of thousands of active wells are draining the freshwater aquifer at an alarming rate.

In many areas along Lebanon’s coast, where 60 percent of the population lives, the depleted aquifer has started absorbing seawater. In some places, it is not uncommon to turn on a faucet and receive salty water.

“During the years of the war, the government was absent and there was a lot of anarchy in the form of well drilling,” says Fadi Comair, general director of the Hydraulic and Electrical Resources Department of the Lebanese Ministry of Energy. “Now we don’t have this anarchy any more, so we must close up these illegal wells. We must find a solution to secure fresh water for the population.”

Last year, Minister of Energy Gebran Bassil proposed a comprehensive plan to solve the country’s water crisis. Based on a similar plan that was scrapped in the early 2000’s, it calls for nothing short of a complete overhaul of the nation’s water infrastructure.

Implemented over a 25-year period and at a cost of $8 billion, the plan involves constructing a network of dams and reservoirs, artificially recharging parts of the country’s freshwater aquifer, rebuilding Lebanon’s water delivery system and transitioning to more efficient irrigation practices, such as drip technology.

In the meantime, people such as Georges Abou Jaoude remain indispensable figures in Lebanese society. Commonly known as a waterman, Mr. Abou Jaoude owns a small business that delivers water to households using a 3,700-gallon-capacity tank truck.

On this hot July afternoon, Mr. Abou Jaoude parks his truck outside the home of one of his regular customers, Hassan Atrache. Mr. Atrache lives in Broumana, a leafy, middle-class village in the foothills just north of Beirut.

The men exchange a few friendly words before Mr. Atrache asks the waterman to fill his property’s 265-gallon water tank, for which he will pay roughly $10.

Without pause, Mr. Abou Jaoude removes equipment and a long pipe from his truck. He connects the pipe first to the truck’s tank, then to a valve leading to the tank beneath the house. He flicks a switch and a motor sputters into a roar, flushing water from the truck’s tank to the one underground. The refill will meet the Atrache family’s water needs for about two weeks.

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