The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that Lebanon’s public water system is “on life support” and could collapse at any moment, putting 71 percent of its population in immediate risk of losing access to safe supply.

It is feared that over 4 million people including 1 million refugees are at sudden jeopardy of losing access to safe drinking water.

The UN agency stated that maintenance costs, funding shortages and the parallel collapse of the power grid, have exacerbated the rapid dismantling of the water sector.

Lebanon has been reeling since the severe and prolonged 2019 financial crisis dubbed by the World Bank as “deliberate depression”.

The country was also devastated by the August 2020 Beirut explosion largely blamed on government neglect, which killed more than 200 people and injuring thousands. 

As Yukie Mokuo’s UNICEF Representative in Lebanon explains the currency collapse has translated into severe shortages of basic goods such as medicine and fuel. 

“Unless urgent action is taken, hospitals, schools and essential public facilities will be unable to function,” said Ms Mokuo.

It is anticipated that most water pumping will gradually cease in the next four to six weeks. 

Illustration: Motorbike drivers wait to get fuel at a gas station in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon 2021. Source: Reuters, Aziz Taher.

The water issue is yet another cascade of challenges, nevertheless, it may be one of the most pressing. Unless urgent action is taken, millions will be forced to resort to unsafe water sources.

“A loss of access to the public water supply could force households to make extremely difficult decisions regarding their basic water, sanitation and hygiene needs,” said Ms Mokuo.

Despite Lebanon being abundantly surrounded by natural water resources, population growth, as well as the influx of Syrian refugees, have placed a significant strain on the country.  

Without access to clean water, there are significant risks to community welfare, health and safety concerns within Lebanon. 

“Hygiene would be compromised, and Lebanon would see an increase in diseases. Women and adolescent girls would face particular challenges to their personal hygiene, protection and dignity without access to safe sanitation,” explained Ms Mokuo.

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