Water scarcity: Safeguarding vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change

UNICEF visited Wadi el Jamous where residents are set to be connected to high-quality water resources through a project funded by the EU and implemented by UNICEF

Simon Balsom
Water pumping facility in Wadi el Jamous
UNICEF2021/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon
29 April 2021

For us all, water is life: without it, we cannot survive. However, a lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene affect more than just children's health. It affects their physical development, exacerbating malnutrition and stunting. It affects their education, disrupting learning and sometimes forcing them to skip school to walk long distances to collect water. Water scarcity reduces livelihood opportunities for their families and communities, leading to migration, conflict and even child labour.

Yet still today, and throughout many regions of Lebanon, the population does not have sufficient access to clean water. UNICEF visited Wadi el Jamous in northern Lebanon, where residents are set to be connected to high-quality water resources for the first time through a project funded by the European Union and implemented by UNICEF.

Safe drinking water is essential for children's health and survival; unsafe water can make them sick or even put their lives in danger

At the village well, we met 11-year-old Adham. He's collecting water in two six-litre containers, which, when full, he hangs on each side of a bicycle and gets set to pedal home.

 "Four times a day I make this journey on my bike to collect water for my family from the village spring. I come, whatever the weather. Sometimes in summer the well dries up, and we go days without water".

Thanks to the UNICEF and European Union's initiative, Adham's vital bike rides will soon be a thing of the past.

Adham, 11 years old
UNICEF2021/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon
Adham, 11 years old on his bike transporting water
UNICEF2021/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon

He's not alone at the well. Amongst a constant flow of locals, as well as water tanker trucks, are many young children. Some alone, others with parents. They all share a common aim – securing safe, clean water for home use.

"I come with my dad every day to help him collect water for my family", says Syrine, aged 10, as she juggles two large and newly refilled plastic bottles. "Sometimes, my brothers and sisters come with him, but my dad is here five times a day. I dream about turning on a tap in my home and seeing water come out!"

Wadi el Jamous lies within the northern governorate of Akkar. Akkar region is home to more than 500,000 vulnerable Lebanese living below the poverty line and more than a quarter of a million Syrian and Palestinian refugees.

Here, UNICEF's Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene teams are coordinating the repair and installation of new water infrastructure destined to benefit hundreds of Lebanon's most vulnerable families.

Syrine, 10 years.
UNICEF2021/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon
Syrine, 10 years transporting water bottles .
UNICEF2021/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon

In this era of COVID-19, water has never before been more critical to our health

The project's drilling of a new 700-metre deep well, together with new facilities, including the construction of a booster station, chlorinator, and a 3 km long lift line to the existing reservoir, have secured the future needs of the village, currently home to 4,500 Lebanese and 1,800 Syrian refugees.

One of the first families lined up to benefit from this direct supply of water are the Akkaris. Hassan, a father to eight children, tells us, "We're waiting impatiently. It costs us a lot of money to buy water, and the source is unreliable - sometimes we spend days without any at all".

While all can feel the impact of water scarcity, no one suffers more than the most vulnerable children. Children and families living in vulnerable communities face the double-edged sword of coping with high water scarcity levels while having some of the weakest water services, making access to sufficient water, especially susceptible to climate shocks and extreme events.

Hassan's 6-year-old son Youssef is already a vocal proponent for the life-protecting value of fresh water. "My parents always tell my brothers and me to wash our hands whenever we come in and frequently after. They always used to talk to us about hygiene, but since last year they've said it's even more important because of the coronavirus. We know that being able to keep clean can save our lives and the lives of our parents!"

Water distribution truck in wadi al jamous
UNICEF2021/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon
Water distribution truck, takin water.
UNICEF2021/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon

Delivering water security for generations to come

The European Union's support for Lebanon's water infrastructure continues a long-standing partnership between the EU, UNICEF, and Lebanon's water establishments. It ensures public access to water resources now and for the future.

The work completed in Wadi el Jamous heralds a new beginning for the village. The facilities created here are state-of-the-art and will deliver water security to the area and its residents for many years to come.