Held each year on 22 March, International World Water Day draws attention to the importance of freshwater and advocates for the sustainable management of freshwater resources around the world. Although Lebanon regularly suffers from water shortages, no place is more prone to them than Palestine refugee camps around Beirut. Having been cut off from the Beirut water network during the Lebanese Civil War, the situation is dire—with many completely unable to access clean drinking water from their homes. The recent influx of Syrian refugees to the camps has only made the situation more desperate.
Compensating for lack of access to clean water
Refugee families are forced to buy water from local vendors because local water is salty, polluted and not suitable for daily use, compounding financial burdens on already disenfranchised communities. Despite spending money on alternative water sources, the quality of what they purchase can never be guaranteed, and the consumption of contaminated water leads to sickness and disease in the camps.
Improving water infrastructure
UNRWA is tackling this problem by improving the water networks and infrastructure of camps that are most in need in Lebanon. New water treatment plants are being installed with a reverse osmosis system that removes contaminants by pumping them through a fine membrane to separate them from water. This system will be installed in Burj Barajneh, Shatila, and Mar Elias refugee camps near Beirut. Funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the project aims to improve the quantity and quality of the water supply used by refugees.
“Do you think we have water? The water that we have here is sea water. It’s unfit for human consumption, as well as other use. Our shelters have cracks in them because the salty water causes decay in the iron. We have been living here for the last 64 years and if this water project is implemented, it will make a huge difference,” said Ruwaida Daher, a resident of Burj Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut.
Like many camps in Lebanon, Ein El Hilweh’s water system also suffers from a number of problems including an inadequate and low-quality water supply, a wastewater system prone to blockage and overflow, and a rain water system that combines with the waste water. In cooperation with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the European Neighborhood Partnership Instrument (ENPI), UNRWA is working on improving the water infrastructure of Ein El Hilweh camp. The project aims to restore water plants and the water distribution network, as well as the construction of a new storm water and sewage system. If successful, the project will benefit some 53,000 Palestine refugees in the camp.