Water Establishments of Lebanon empowered

In a programme funded by the European Union through the EU Trust Fund Madad, UNICEF’s WASH teams are supporting the four Water Establishments in Lebanon to repair and install new water infrastructure destined to benefit hundreds of the country’s families

Simon Balsom
UNICEF Staff, with technicians who installed the water pipes
03 February 2021

Set against the backdrop of multiple crises in the country, Lebanon’s four Water Establishments is supporting the improvement and rehabilitation of the nation’s domestic water supplies. In a programme funded by the European Union through the EU Trust Fund Madad and coordinated by UNICEF’s WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) teams, Lebanon’s Water Establishments are repairing and installing new water infrastructure destined to benefit hundreds of Lebanon’s families.

In these times of Covid19, hygiene has perhaps never been a more important topic than it is today. Yet, throughout 2020’s coronavirus pandemic, Lebanon has struggled to keep up with the demands of providing safe and potable water to many of the nation’s families.

Many years of underinvestment, combined with a rapid increase in the population of already large urban centres has placed the country’s Water Establishments at breaking point. 

From repairing constantly leaking pipes wasting Lebanon’s valuable fresh water resources, through to connecting homes to mains water for the very first time, the Water Establishments in coordination with UNICEF are currently engaged in a nationwide campaign which is benefitting families, raising access to hygiene, and even boosting local economies by providing work for local contractors.

The programme was launched at the beginning of October 2020 and will run through to the end of June 2021.

While installing water pipes
Workers digging a path to install water pipes

Here in Zahle – which reports alarming, yet all too familiar, levels of water leakage – around 50% of potable water is lost before it reaches homes or businesses. In addition to the water loss, valuable energy resources used to clean the lost water is also being wasted.

Working in coordination with UNICEF, the regional Bekaa Water Establishment (BWE), is today able to rapidly respond to the many calls for improvements – big and small – that are being made.

Eng. Zainab Shuhadi, Head of Department of Studies and Projects at BWE, explains how the partnership is proving a boon for all concerned. With a list of known projects, she now has sufficient funding to start making significant change.

“We have the technical skills, we have the willingness – what we have been lacking is the funding”, Eng. Zainab stresses.

Shakib El-Rayes is a life-long resident of Zahle. His own home has been constantly damp “for years” he says. His building sits half-way down a steep incline, one where water from a leaking main supply sends water into the foundations and along the lower facades of his property. Recently, this dampness accelerated to the point where water was running down the interior walls of his home.

With the support of this programme, the BWE had the resources to search for the leak and commit to repairing the broken pipes. Today workers are on-site and have dug channels to expose the main and will soon have replaced the existing 60-year old infrastructure with new.

Shakib was happy to share his enthusiasm for the project. “For years I’ve been calling the BWE to complain about the dampness and despite their willingness and attempt to find a solution, they never quite had the resources to find the root cause and to fix it once and for all. Today though, with trenches being dug and old pipes being removed, I can see how determined they are about getting things done”.

In replacing these pipes, a further health-focus bonus is achieved. Today, modern plastics and polymers are employed to create a stronger, safer, and more enduring seal on the joints.

Zainab Shuhadi, Head of Department of Studies and Projects at BWE
Shakib El-Rayes is a life-long resident of Zahle.

Another positive boost is also provided to the local economy – the small site is busy with manual labourers. Some manage the technical aspects of the projects, while others manage the site. More than half of the employed labour on the site are local Lebanese from the Zahle area, the remainder are Syrian refugees.

In other areas of the city, similar urgent work has already been completed. For some families this means their homes are now connected to the mains water supply for the first time.

The majority of jobs completed under this programme may appear small in scale – they are typically completed in days… sometimes in one day – and the only visible sign that remains is usually a narrow black strip of freshly laid asphalt. The real change is within the homes that lay to each side of this strip on either side of the road.

One project which was visited connects forty homes to mains water using three-hundred meters of new pipes. Another connected thirty homes using a similar amount of new ducting. On these two streets alone, close to four-hundred people from seventy families now have easy access to potable water.

No more are the calls to private water companies to arrange the environmentally-harmful trucking-in of costly water supplies. From now, it’s simply a turn of the tap to connect with clean, fresh, life-sustaining water.

Together, Lebanon’s four Water Establishments, UNICEF, and the European Union, are collaborating closely to ensure the delivery of water where it is needed most, empowering previously marginalised families to raise hygiene standards to a far safer level.

Water. A vital need but never more valued than it is today by Lebanon’s communities.

After the installation of the water pipes