Lebanon’s youths voice support for UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene intervention in Beddawi
As part of UNICEF’s WASH Program, Germany’s KFW funded the construction of a 4.3km waste water line aimed at removing sewage from an open stream, improving the quality of life for Beddawi’s residents
For many years, Beddawi has been home to a community of increasingly vulnerable citizens. A continuous period of uncontrolled growth started with the arrival of Palestinians during the Lebanese civil war and accelerated eight years ago through the influx of Syrians fleeing conflict across the border. The mushrooming population added an unmanageable burden to the municipality of this already impoverished northern town, with many areas of the urban environment cracking under the strain.
As refugees came, they settled wherever they could – in many cases building unlicensed and illegal homes next to the legal dwellings of their Lebanese neighbors. With no infrastructure to draw on, and no finances to enable them to do so in any case, corners were cut and basic standards of health and hygiene were ignored.
"The homes' wastewater simply flooded out into an open stream – this was transformed into an open and running sewer." Hassan Ghamrawi, Mayor of Beddawi.
Mayor of Beddawi, Hassan Ghamrawi, recalls how the situation developed; "We faced many challenges as the population increased. One key challenge was with regards to sewage. The homes being built were disconnected from the sewage network, and their wastewater simply flooded out into an open stream – this was transformed into an open and running sewer.
“As you can imagine, and particularly given our extreme summer temperatures here, this caused many health-related incidents with flies breeding out of control and the stench being almost unbearable."
The situation persisted for years, only being resolved through the recent intervention of the Government of Germany, through their KFW initiative, who funded a series of works UNICEF Lebanon negotiated with the municipality of Beddawi - in coordination with and supported by the Ministry of Energy and Water - to solve the sewage crisis and, along with its associated health risks.
"Whenever the children played out here, they’d get sick. No one would admit why there was so much sickness." Zeina, local resident.
As part of UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Program, KFW funded the construction of a 4.3km waste water line aimed at removing sewage from the stream, while directing it towards a trunk connection with the town’s main sewer and a treatment plant on the coast. The investment also provided work for locals – with 2,700 labor days involved in its construction.
How has life changed? Local resident Zeina explains. She’s lived alongside the stream for fourteen years. “Our home is only twenty meters from its banks. For as long as I can remember, all of our waste would pass directly into the stream. It was the same for all the other houses too. The smell was overwhelming as were the swarms of flies also. They got in everywhere. Whenever the children played out here, they’d get sick. There were diarrhea and skin diseases to contend with. No one would admit why there was so much sickness, but we only had to look out of our windows to know the truth. And, when one child got sick, it would spread to the others.
“Of course, since the workers came and laid the pipeline, it is much better. The water running through the stream is cleaner, and the area is a safer place for the children to play”.
Because of the large scale of costs involved, the municipality was not able to fund this intervention alone, and without its collaboration with Germany’s KFW and liaison with UNICEF, it was, according to Mayor Ghamrawi, unlikely to have ever happened at all.
"We spend all our time outside during the day, but we used to keep as far away from the stream as possible. Today, it much better. You can see for yourself." Shuhaib, 10.
“However,” he tells us, “we funded connections from the homes to the main sewer. Usually we require this to be paid for by the homeowner, however in these cases, there was no possibility of them finding the money – so we paid for them to ensure the viability of the whole project. We still have a few homes remaining to connect”.
Ten-year-old Shuhaib is one of a group of young boys that gathers around us as we tour the area. He’s keen to recount his memories. “We spend all our time outside during the day, but we used to keep as far away from the stream as possible. The smell was so bad, and the flies used to follow me wherever I went, no matter how quickly I ran!
"Today, it much better. You can see for yourself" Shuhaib adds as he takes us over a bridge crossing the stream. Following heavy storms over the previous days, the water is muddy, but no longer a sewer.
One of his more enthusiastic friends is so keen to demonstrate its cleanliness that he volunteers to jump into it for us. Given that it's 9 degrees, there’s a cold biting wind, and he’s fully clothed, we politely decline his offer preferring to take his word for it.
Without doubt, local residents’ lives have been improved with the covering of this once open sewer. Challenges still remain, but their basic right to clean water, sanitation and hygiene has been enhanced through UNICEF Lebanon and KFW’s commitment.