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Water crisis threatens nation, supply at risk

Beirut: Approximately four million people, including one million refugees are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water in Lebanon. Due to the rapidly escalating economic crisis, shortages of funds, fuel, chlorine and spare parts, UNICEF estimates the majority of water pumping will cease in the next four to six weeks.

‘The water sector in Lebanon has been affected by the current economic crisis, unable to function due to the dollarized maintenance costs, non-profit water loss, parallel collapse of the power grid and rising fuel costs’, says Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF representative in Lebanon. ‘The loss of access to public water supplies could force households to make extremely difficult decisions concerning their basic needs for water, sanitation and hygiene,’ she explained.

When the public water supply system collapses, UNICEF estimates that water costs would skyrocket by 200 percent a month when purchasing water from alternative or private sources. Many of Lebanon’s most vulnerable households will not be able to afford this cost since it represents 263 percent of their monthly income. A UNICEF-supported assessment based on data collected by the country’s four main public water utility companies in May and June 2021 finds:

  • ┬áNearly 71 percent of people fall into the ‘highly critical’ and ‘critical’ categories of vulnerability. Over 1.7 million people have access to only 35 liters of water a day, a decrease of almost 80 percent compared to the national average of 165 liters pre-2020.
  • Several public water utility providers are unable to afford essential spare parts for maintenance; since 2020, private sector bulk water supply prices have risen by 35 percent, while the price of bottled water has doubled.
  • Due to blackouts and an intermittent power supply, water systems are being put under pressure, interrupting the treatment, pumping, and distributing of water.
  • The amount of water that is not accounted for due to system losses is about 40%; most of this is due to a lack of maintenance and illegal connections.

According to Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Representative in Lebanon, Lebanon’s precious public water system is on life support and could collapse at any time due to the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant. If urgent action is not taken, schools, hospitals and other public facilities will be unable to function, and over four million people will be forced to rely on unsafe, expensive sources of water, endangering their health and hygiene. Public health would be adversely affected immediately. Lebanon would see an increase in diseases due to poor hygiene. Without access to safe sanitation, women and adolescents would face particular challenges in terms of hygiene, protection and dignity.

In order to keep water flowing to over four million people in the country, UNICEF needs US$40 million annually to provide fuel, chlorine, spare parts, and maintenance, as well as protecting access and operation of the public water systems.

UNICEF works closely with public water supply providers in Lebanon to reach the most vulnerable children and women. UNICEF provided safe water to communities across the country utilizing the existing infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘We will continue to support communities as resources allow, but this alarming situation requires immediate and sustained funding’, said Mokuo. UNICEF stands ready to assist, particularly as the global pandemic unfolds, to ensure that children and families have access to clean water at this critical time for Lebanon’.

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UNICEF’s response to WASH in 2020 and 2021:

  • Since October 2020, UNICEF has supported four public water establishments with supplies, consumables, and quick repairs, preventing the collapse of water services for four million people.
  • 184,690 people received critical WASH supplies, including hygiene items.
  • Approximately 200,000 people were provided with temporary access to adequate quantities of safe drinking water and water for domestic use.
  • In temporary locations, there are 197,060 people who have access to improved, safe sanitation155 buildings were reconnected to the public water system after the Beirut Port explosions in August 2020. 873 water tanks were installed in damaged households and 4,485 hygiene kits and 462 baby kits were distributed to affected families.
  • The effort also included personal protection equipment (PPE) and Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) items such as gloves, masks and hand sanitizers worth $464,000.

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