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Geography, climate and population
Lebanon, with a total area of 10 400 km2, is situated east of the Mediterranean Sea and bordered by the Syrian Arab Republic to the north and east and by Israel to the south. It is a mountainous country, stretching about 60 km in width from west to east and about 225 km along the Mediterranean coast from north to south. About 8 percent is covered by forest and Mediterranean brushwood.
Administratively, Lebanon was divided until 2003 into six mohafazats or governorates (Beirut, North, Mount Lebanon, South, Nabatiyeh and Bekaa). In 2003, two new mohafazats were created (Akkar and Baalbeck Hermel). Topographically, there are four parallel areas running north-south which are, from west to east, as follows:
- a flat, narrow coastal strip parallel to the Mediterranean sea;
- the Lebanon Mountains, a chain with mid-range mountains up to 1 000 m above sea level and high mountains reaching 3 087 m above sea level at Qurnat as Sawda in northern Lebanon;
- the fertile Bekaa Valley at around 900 m above sea level;
- the Anti-Lebanon mountainous chain, which rises to 2 800 m and stretches across the eastern border with the Syrian Arab Republic.
About 70 percent of Lebanon’s land consists of carbonate rocks from the Middle Jurassic to the Eocene period. The soils of Lebanon are typically Mediterranean, generally calcareous except for the sandy soils formed on the basal cretaceous strata of the Akkar Plain and the alluvial soils of central and western Bekaa Valley. Lebanon has a complex landform consisting of sloping and steep lands. The high slope gradient is a major physical factor, exacerbating water erosion of the upper layer of the soil and leading to a weak structure and reduced water-holding capacity.
The cultivable area is estimated at 360 000 ha, or 35 percent of the total area. In 2005, the cultivated area was 328 000 ha, of which 186 000 ha annual crops and 142 000 ha permanent crops (Table 1), amounting to increases of 63 and 68 percent respectively since 1993. The two main agricultural regions are the Bekaa Valley, accounting for 42 percent of the total cultivated area, and North Lebanon, which accounts for 26 percent. In 1999, the harvested crop area, including both rainfed and irrigated production, consisted of fruit trees (26 percent), cereals (22 percent), olives (22 percent), vegetables (19 percent) and industrial crops (11 percent) (MOA and FAO, 2000).
The climate of Lebanon is typically Mediterranean, with heavy rains in the winter season (November to May) and dry and arid conditions in the remaining seven months of the year. However, the influence of the Mediterranean Sea, the topographic features, and the Syrian Desert in the north creates a variety of microclimates within the country with contrasting temperatures and rainfall distribution. On the coast, the average annual temperature is 20 °C, ranging from 13 °C in winter to 27 °C in summer whereas the average annual temperature in the Bekaa valley is lower at 16 °C, ranging from 5 °C in winter to 26 °C in summer; nevertheless, at higher elevations in the mountain zones the average annual temperature is below 10 °C, ranging from 0 °C in winter to 18 °C in summer. Average annual rainfall is estimated at 823 mm although this varies from 700 to 1 000 mm along the coastal zones and from 1 500 to 2 000 mm on the high mountains, decreasing to 400 mm in the eastern parts and to less than 200 mm in the northeast. Above 2 000 m, precipitation is essentially niveus and helps to sustain a base yield for about 2 000 springs during the dry period. Precipitation in dry years can be as little as 50 percent of the average. Rainfall occurs on 80 to 90 days a year, mainly between October and April. About 75 percent of the annual stream flow occurs in the five-month period from January to May, 16 percent from June to July and only 9 percent in the remaining five months from August to December.
The National Meteorological Service has identified eight ecoclimatic zones based on rainfall:
- the coastal strip, which includes the northern, central and southern coasts;
- the Lebanon Mountains, which are divided into the northern and central mountains;
- the Bekaa Valley, which is divided into the northern (interior Asi-Orontes), central (interior Litani) and southern (interior Hasbani) regions.
Mean annual potential evapotranspiration ranges from 1 100 mm on the coast to 1 200 mm in the Bekaa Valley, with maximum values recorded in July. Generally, fewer adverse effects are observed on the coast than in the Bekaa Valley, where effects due to wind and high vapour pressure deficit are dominant (LNAP, 2002).
The total population is 3.58 million (2005), of which around 12 percent is rural (Table 1). Population density is 344 inhabitants/km2. The annual demographic growth rate was estimated at 1 percent in the period 2000–2005. In 2006, the whole population had access to improved water sources. In 2000, 98 percent of the total population had access to improved sanitation (100 and 87 percent in urban and rural areas respectively).