Last week, the Lebanon Minister of Environment, Mohammed Machnouk, announced the preliminary results of an assessment study on the impact of the war in Syria on Lebanon’s environment. The study estimates that by the end of 2014, the influx of refugees from the Syrian crisis will have increased water consumption at the national level between 8% and 12%. Solid waste generated by the refugees is expected to reach 324,000 tons by then, which is equivalent to 15.7% of the total amount of waste produced in Lebanon prior to the arrival of the refugees. This increase will have adverse impacts on water resources and air quality.
While the detailed study will surely provide more pertinent information on the methodology and results obtained, it is important to raise some issues that will likely be of relevance:
- Even before the crisis, Lebanon’s infrastructure had suffered major inadequacies and the government was never able to provide proper services to its population. Households did not receive continuous supply of electricity or water. The wastewater sector in Lebanon is in worse shape, as the World Bank estimates that only 58% of the Lebanese population is connected to a wastewater network, most of which is discharged raw into the environment. Solid waste is disposed of haphazardly and with no regard to environmental consequences. The influx of refugees would in that case have exacerbated these issues but obviously did not create them.
- Another issue to keep in mind is the lack of environmental data which is a prevalent problem in Lebanon. This makes it almost impossible to set a baseline to compare to. In this case, assessing water pollution and attributing it to the refugee situation to any level of certainty becomes problematic since water quality is not measured on a regular basis throughout the country. Data on air quality is even scarcer. The lack of data is even worse in rural areas, where the majority of refugees are located.
- The final issue relates to the transience of the refugee communities, many of which do not stay in one area for very long due to the lack of official refugee camps. This makes evaluating the impact of these refugees on the environment even trickier.
As a result of these factors, it will be extremely challenging to assess the extent to which the arrival of refugees has contributed to the degradation of the environment in Lebanon. It is therefore important that these factors be taken into account and incorporated into the study’s methodology and assumptions.