Lebanon: More water for refugees and residents
The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria has placed Lebanon's water infrastructure under additional pressure. The ICRC is helping the authorities to cope. Thomas Batardy, in charge of ICRC water and habitat programmes in Lebanon, explains.
Can you tell us about the ICRC's water project in Sultan Yaacoub?
We have just completed upgrades at the Loussi pumping station in Sultan Yaacoub, in West Bekaa, which is the main water supplier for an estimated 42,000 residents and 10,000 refugees in 15 villages of Rachaya Caza.
The villages supplied by Loussi regularly experience water shortages because of the station's insufficient production capacity and inadequate maintenance. The increase of population due to the influx of refugees worsens the situation. The complete overhaul of the station carried out by the ICRC to nearly double its water production has significantly improved the current and long-term availability of water for refugees and host communities alike. The ICRC is also providing hands-on training for operators of the station to ensure that it will function properly in the future.
How do these projects benefit Syrian refugees and their Lebanese hosts?
The estimated 80 per cent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon who are either renting apartments or being hosted by Lebanese families are connected to municipal water systems as any Lebanese household would be. The remaining 20 per cent of the refugees are staying in collective shelters, unfinished buildings or informal tented settlements, which are partly connected to the water network. In other words, the majority of refugees are sharing water resources with Lebanese citizens through the regular network.
In order to meet these growing water needs, the ICRC is striving to expand the supply of water in certain areas and also to improve the quality of drinking water. Actions taken by the ICRC have ranged from the emergency replacement of equipment to extensive facility upgrades that will have a lasting impact for residents even after the departure of Syrian refugees.
What are the main projects currently under way or scheduled for the near future?
After completing eight projects benefiting an estimated 230,000 people in 2013, ICRC water engineers are now considering another project, in Aarsal, where there are more refugees than residents. The aim is to find a way to expand supply so that there will be enough water for everyone, even in the future after trucking is curtailed. In Zahleh, in the Bekaa, we are currently building a simple pumping station and its pipelines to improve water supply for some 35,000 people. Also in Hermel, in north-east Lebanon, we are presently upgrading the pumping station to improve water access in all parts of the town. Other potential projects, including in the south of the country, are being discussed with the local authorities, including various municipalities and water boards
Since when is the ICRC is involved in water-related activities in Lebanon, and why?
In May 2013, the ICRC decided to resume its involvement in the country's water sector, which had been discontinued more than two years earlier. The decision was taken at a time when Lebanon was already playing host to some 500,000 Syrian refugees, representing more than 10 per cent of its population.
It was clear that the population increase could only exacerbate existing water supply problems, which the ICRC knew well through its activities in the Lebanese water sector between 2006 and 2011. It therefore offered to help the authorities in their efforts to cope with the situation. The ICRC had carried out dozens of projects repairing war-damaged water facilities in southern Lebanon and in the Bekaa in the aftermath of the conflict with Israel in 2006.