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At a glance: Lebanon

Rehabilitating water systems and raising hygiene awareness in south Lebanon

© UNICEF Lebanon/2007/Debbas
Schoolchildren in south Lebanon watch a puppet show to learn about good hygiene practices.

By Serene Assir

Six months after the 14 August 2006 agreement that ended the war in Lebanon, here is one in a series of reports on its aftermath.

HENNIYE, Lebanon, 15 February 2007 – On a bright winter day in this south Lebanese village, schoolchildren sat cross-legged on a classroom floor, eagerly watching a puppet show starring Fufu the rabbit.

The show, aimed at raising hygiene awareness among the children, clearly had an impact on Zahraa, 9. “Before I go to sleep,” she said in her sing-song voice, “I must make sure I brush my teeth. And just like Fufu, I must wash every time I come home from school or from playing outside with my friends.”

Lingering effects of war

Working with InterSOS, a non-governmental partner, UNICEF has provided funds, supplies and technical support to this hygiene-awareness programme implemented in areas affected by the war last summer. Some 1,400 Lebanese people, a third of them children, lost their lives in that bloodshed.

Volunteers and staff running the programme believe the best way to raise awareness is by involving the children with activities they genuinely enjoy, such as watching  puppet shows.

© UNICEF Lebanon/2007/Debbas
UNICEF supported the construction of this nearly complete water tower in Al-Khiam, south Lebanon.

Although the work has shown good results, the task of promoting proper hygiene and sanitation maintenance in south Lebanon remains a challenging one. The damage to water infrastructure resulting from the conflict six months ago has only exacerbated the problems.

Rehabilitating water system

“Water is pumped to our house maximum twice a week,” said Samar, 16, a resident of Al-Khiam in south Lebanon. “We never have enough water for the family. My mother’s cooking is affected, and we aren’t even able to wash as often as we should.”

Samar explained that his family pays bills to the Water Authority. To supplement their daily needs, the family also buys water each day, spending an average of $25 a month. For impoverished families in the largely agricultural south, the extra cost has imposed a heavy burden.

“Most of the existing networks are old and tired,” said UNICEF Senior Programme Officer Mohamed Bendriss-Alami. “The Water Authority asked for our help in rehabilitating the system in order to reduce water losses and decrease the risk of contamination."

© UNICEF Lebanon/2007/Debbas
A boy stands in front of the temporary water tanks built with UNICEF’s support in the town of Al-Khiam.

Longer-term projects

Six months since the end of the war, UNICEF’s involvement in water-related activities is manifold. The agency is not only directly engaged in the engineering process, but has provided funding for the reconstruction of destroyed water tanks for entire towns and surrounding villages.

One example is in Al-Khiam, where the construction of a water tank with a capacity of 1,000 cubic metres is now nearing completion. The project, which is vital to the health and livelihood of Al-Khiam’s 30,000 residents, has inspired visible hope in the town.

“I suppose we will not have any more water-related problems once the tank is finished,” said Samar.

As the more urgent work draws to its completion, UNICEF is expanding its horizons to become involved in medium- and longer-term projects. In a bid to secure safe drinking water for more of south Lebanon’s communities, the organization is now working on rehabilitating 29 chlorination stations.

“We are also working to reduce the population’s reliance on pumping stations and wells, in order to cut costs on behalf of the Water Authority,” said Mr. Bendriss-Alami. “We are working to provide systems – not just in war-affected areas – to help people rely on gravity instead.”



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