In the midst of the largest river in Lebanon curving its way through the earth, lies a fire salamander, a lizard-like amphibian that is living proof that the Litani river is regaining its health back, according to environmentalists.
Located in the Bekaa valley, the Litani River is an essential source for irrigation and hydroelectricity production.
However, throughout many years that vital source has been exposed to microbial and chemical contamination from industrial and domestic discharge, as well as raw sewage.
In 2014, the Lebanese government proposed a $730 million bid to clean up the heavy pollution of the Litani River in order to prevent future contamination.
However, similar to many of the government’s promises, the project never saw the light of day.
Tests conducted by the South Lebanon Water Establishment (SLWA) in 2016 revealed that the Litani’s muddy waters contained bacteria that cause multiple diseases, including typhoid and salmonella.
Even the land surrounding the river was not spared. According to SLWA, 37 percent of the area has been infected with salmonella. It is important to know that the accepted “safe” level is strictly two percent.
On a positive note, Lebanon’s caretaker Minister of Industry ordered in 2018 the shut down of 75 factories operating without a valid license in the Bekaa region, for their role in polluting the Litani River.
In 2019, the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) of the American University of Beirut (AUB) partnered with the Litani River Authority (LRA) to work on sustaining the Litani river.
Fast forward to 2020, locals have spotted a fire salamander, a species listed as “Near Threatened” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
It is even considered to be especially threatened in Lebanon and Occupied Palestine, due to road building and the pollution of water bodies by pesticides.
The fact that a fire salamander was found alive and healthy next to the steady flow of the Litani River is a great indicator of biodiversity and good quality of water stream.
“Salamanders can be important environmental indicators due to the permeability of their skin and eggs,” Marne Titchenell, wildlife specialist at the School of Environment and Natural Resources said.
She explained that “water and air pass easily from the environment through their skin. This makes them very susceptible to toxins or changes in their environment.”
So, if the water quality was poor, that salamander wouldn’t have been there.
People in Lebanon whose livelihoods are directly linked or affected by the Litani River can now regain hope, as these yellow dotted salamanders are proof of the positive progress the river is witnessing.