The issues relating to availability of water resources in Lebanon have been discussed several times in this blog. From drought to resource mismanagement, a severe water deficit has resulted in the country. The influx of refugees over the past three years has further exacerbated the problem. By the end of 2014, water demand nationwide is expected to increase between 8 to 21% because of this surge in population. The overexploitation of groundwater and construction of wells near springs will reduce water flow and have a severe impact on the ecosystem.
In addition to the environmental impacts, this increase in water demand will have economic consequences. The water deficit has become a financial burden on the residents of Lebanon who are now paying about US$164 per month to offset their water shortage; for some perspective, this is about 35% of the minimum wage in Lebanon.
Access to Water and Poverty
The figure below summarizes the water supply by governorate in Lebanon as reported in a World Bank study in 2008. The study found that less than a quarter of the country’s population receives water on a daily basis and about 40% receive water every other day. It is important to point out that water shortage is a widespread throughout Lebanon. Economic factors seem to be insignificant in influencing how water is distributed. For example, about 59 % of the relatively poorer North receives water on a daily basis compared to only 10% of the capital Beirut. Nabatieh, which has lowest poverty rates in the country, also has infrequent water supply such that 10% of residents have no access to the public system. It is important to note that this data (both poverty rates and water access) dates back to 2008 and the situation may be significantly different now.
Water Access for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Syrian refugees who cannot afford to rent accommodations with proper water infrastructure are the most affected by the water crisis. In cooperation with the UNHCR and many other organizations, a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Working Group has been formed to coordinate programs throughout the country. The working group has already provided 857,000 people with improved water supply at an adequate level of service, almost 30,000 more than their end of 2014 target.
Despite this impressive figure, many communities have not been receiving an adequate supply of water. A recent report by the UN found that informal settlements in the North and the Bekaa are suffering from extreme water scarcity. In some areas, inadequate solid waste management practices have contaminated the water supply causing the spread of diseases in the refugee population. Ecocentra’s experience with the water supply and sanitation illustrates the problems that the refugees face. For example in Ghazze town in the Bekaa region, 58% of the households interviewed receive less than 40 liters of water a day. Only 28% said that the water they receive is clear, while 66% indicated that it was muddy. In addition, 12% found that it had a foul odor and 6% a bad taste. About 51% of the refugees interviewed stated that they spend more than 10 minutes at watering points waiting to fill their containers. About 30% of the households said that at least one member of their household has had diarrhea in the last month.
Therefore, and even though the link between poverty and lack of water supply cannot be established, extremely vulnerable communities in Lebanon clearly suffer from limited access to potable water. In fact, when much is said about the increased demand as a result of the refugee crisis and its impact on Lebanon, there is little focus on the effect of the limited amount of low quality water provided to the refugee population and the potential health impacts and ensuing costs.