UNICEF Lebanon: using the provision of clean water to create

UNICEF employs its WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) programme to effect wide-ranging improvements in the lives of the poorest and economically most vulnerable families in the Lebanon.

Simon Balsom
Bilal working in asphalt cutting
15 May 2019

In partnership with LebRelief (LRC) – a Tripoli-based NGO – UNICEF Lebanon is employing its WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) programme to effect wide-ranging improvements in the lives of the poorest and economically most vulnerable families in the city’s Jabal Mohsen neighbourhood. Our encounter with 20-year-old resident Bilal provided tangible proof of their combined success.

Born with Trendelenburg lurch - an abnormal curvature of the spine that causes difficulty in walking - by any measure, Bilal’s life has been a series of seemingly insurmountable challenges. Currently living in a single-room home along with five other family members, he dropped out of school at an early age, possesses no formal skill which might support a choice of career, and has never been employed.

Through an integrated project, co-funded by the United Nations Trust Fund (UNTF), the Government of Canada, and the Government of the United States and in partnership with UNICEF Lebanon, LebRelief uses the WASH programme - ostensibly mobilizing local communities to adopt measures aimed at improving hygiene and raising environmental awareness – to deliver a positive footprint amongst local families with out of school children, working children, and those most economically vulnerable.

Here in Jabal Mohsen, LebRelief aims to identify those most at risk, and provide at least one of each family’s members with technical vocation training and then recruit them and their skills as an asset within its neighbourhood WASH projects.

Bilal was one of the most vulnerable youths identified through this collaboration. However, using a curriculum developed in coordination with the International Labor organization to fit the learning backgrounds of the programme’s participants, he was offered competency-based training on the technicalities of implementing water networks. Bilal specialized in asphalt cutting and successfully acquired a high degree of skill.

Along with forty-five other young men from Jabal Mohsen, Bilal was recruited for the implementation of the vital main water transmission pipeline that runs from Qobbeh, passes through his hometown of Jabal Mohsen, and goes on to feed the Tabbaneh water network.

For the first time in his life, Bilal works. His experiences have demanded that he learned labour ethics, discipline, and respect for working hours. This important job placement has allowed him to be socially interactive and provided him with an income to help support himself and his family and to somewhat reduce their economic vulnerability.

Not only is Bilal working, but he is contributing to the implementation of the water network that will flow and improve the lives of thousands of the most vulnerable in his own hometown. His sense of achievement, responsibility, and ownership has dramatically increased, as has his wellbeing.

The integrated approach adopted to implement the water transmission pipeline has provided new skills, job placements, income generation and a brighter future for 112 vulnerable young men and 8 young women. To Bilal, the opportunity really has been a life-changing experience, he remarked, “I have a skill that I can work with, a great experience to build on, and a social life to develop. I might be able to consider getting married now”.

There are new and valuable legacies being secured through LebRelief’s UNICEF Lebanon-supported and UNTF, Canada, and the USG co-funded WASH-based initiative. Through a series of ongoing LebRelief-led awareness sessions, a critical communication for development plan - implemented in cooperation with the neighbourhood committee, and further boosted by regular workshops which saw representatives of both the water authority and the community sit together in order to rebuild the trust - Bilal’s family and others are considering the huge step forward of agreeing on a connection to the new water network that they help build, and are looking forward to receiving clean and fresh water once it is functional.

Such successes may appear inconsequential steps to those in more economically developed and less socially-challenged communities, but for Jabal Mohsen’s Bilal and his neighbours, these are life-changing events.