Drowning in Corruption, Lebanon’s Water Supply Dribbles to a Halt

Sunday, July 25, 2021
Opinion by Jean AbiNader
“Generator Nabatiye pumping station” by Julien Harneis is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “More than four million people, including one million refugees, are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water in Lebanon. With the rapidly escalating economic crisis, shortages of funding, fuel, and supplies such as chlorine and spare parts … most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks.”

No, you did read that right. Lebanon, which was once a key water resource country in the Fertile Crescent, is projected to run out of potable water in the coming hot, humid summer months. Is it due to climate change? NO. Like every current crisis in Lebanon, it’s man-made.

Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Representative in Lebanon, commented, “The water sector is being squeezed to destruction by the current economic crisis in Lebanon, unable to function due to the dollarized maintenance costs, water loss caused by non-revenue water, the parallel collapse of the power grid, and the threat of rising fuel costs.”

What that means is that, like everything else in Lebanon, safe water will shortly be beyond the means of 71% of the country’s residents.

How did this become an economic crisis? The availability of water for 1.7 million residents dropped in 2020 by 80% from 43.6 to 9 gallons of potable water a day. This has resulted in an increase of 35% in the price of private sector bulk water supplies, while the cost of bottled water has doubled.

And where does the blame lay? There are no dollars to buy chlorine or spare parts for the municipal water systems – suppliers insist on being paid in real money, not Lebanese lira. Hard to blame them.

Then there are the intermittent power supplies and blackouts interrupting the treatment, pumping, and distribution of water. That’s the government’s responsibility since it controls contracting and maintenance of the public water supply.

And, about 40% of the safe water supply is wasted through faulty, corroded pipes and water being illegally diverted. Bad luck maybe, but more likely negligence on the part of the municipal and regional water authorities for ignoring or avoiding these issues for the past 20 years. These jobs are the patrimony of political parties, and accountability is not enforced lest the dons lose the votes of the employees and their families.

The report points out that “UNICEF needs US $40 million a year to keep the water flowing to over four million people across the country – by securing the minimum levels of fuel, chlorine, spare parts, and maintenance required to keep critical systems operational – and safeguarding access and operation of the public water systems.”

So, there we have it. Will 40 of Lebanon’s million/billionaires each please transfer $1 million to UNICEF, which is not a Lebanese entity, to enable UNICEF to carry out its commitment “to support, particularly as the global pandemic evolves, to ensure that the most basic right to clean water is met for children and families at this critical time for Lebanon?”

We will thank you and toast you with safe Lebanese water the next time we see you.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.