At first glance, there is little to separate Hammana from the host of other sleepy hillside communities that dot the snow-capped Lebanese mountains. Ice-cold streams meander down from the peaks through narrow, winding gullies; verdant cedar forests flank the outskirts of the town, which is perched at 4,000 feet alongside a strategic route stretching from nearby Beirut to Damascus.
But Hammana, a mostly Christian settlement of around 11,000 people, is also the setting for a brewing inter-communal clash with surrounding Druze villages that threatens to disturb the area’s tentative peace. A government plan to build a dam in the broad Qaysamani valley to the east has aroused fierce opposition from townspeople, who say its construction is flawed and that it will destroy their famed Shaghour spring.
“The best assumption is that the spring will lose at least some of its water,” said Joseph Hatem, a Hammana resident and member of its municipality. “The worst case: We lose everything.”
The Shaghour spring, which campaigners say could be damaged by the dam project. Photo: Courtesy of Save Hammana.
Keenly aware of historic rivalries in the area, some Druze, an ethno-religious group native to the Eastern Mediterranean, are nevertheless skeptical of the Hammanans’ motivations. They believe the Christian town has seized upon past tensions, which saw dueling communities engaged in a bitter mountain conflict during the Lebanese civil war, in order to rob them of the regular drinking water supply the dam is slated to provide.
Nothing in Lebanon, it seems, is immune from the consequences of the country’s complicated sectarian dynamic, rampant corruption, and sketchy backhand political deal-making. This ostensibly uncontroversial water project is proving no exception.
Hammanans suspect that some of the political leaders backing the dam have ties to the companies who are building it and so will benefit financially from the $28 million Kuwait loaned the government to fund the scheme. Others are adamant that political blocs are backing the project, irrespective of its merits, as a means of showcasing an achievement to constituents weary of Beirut’s political paralysis.