Lebanon is a Middle Eastern country located in Western Asia. Bordered by Syria and Israel, Lebanon has a population of about 6.8 million. In the past 40 years, Lebanon has faced a civil war, spillover from the Syrian civil war, years of political unrest and a two-and-a-half-year leadership gap in 2014. Lebanon’s sanitation issues have been a task the government has not yet solved due to the amount of political and governmental unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, foreign aid groups are intervening to keep the Lebanese people safe. Here are 10 facts about sanitation in Lebanon.
10 Facts About Sanitation in Lebanon
- Lebanon is facing a garbage crisis. In 2015, Naameh, a large Lebanese landfill site, closed due to unsanitary conditions and capacity issues. Government authorities struggled to find a contingency plan in time, leading to what Human Rights Watch calls a “national health crisis.” Garbage is piling up on streets and in riverbanks in its capital, Beirut. Burning waste is a method that Beirut and Mount Lebanon has used since Naameh closed, but it poses a threat to the Lebanese people. The Human Rights Watch reported that, since the closure, doctors near Beirut saw an increase in respiratory illnesses. In addition, experts have linked the inhalation of smoke from burning waste to heart disease, cancer and skin conditions. During the COVID-19 outbreak, this crisis has worsened. Nongovernmental organizations have to take Lebanon’s medical waste because the country cannot properly dispose of it.
- Water quality has deteriorated, in part due to the garbage crisis. USAID wrote that the dumping of waste in rivers, in combination with urbanization and the lack of a waste management system, has led to a deterioration in Lebanon’s water quality. Waterborne diseases, such as dysentery, hepatitis A, leishmaniasis and typhoid, are leading diseases that affect children.
- The Syrian crisis spillover into Lebanon has had harmful effects on the country’s water. The war has led to an influx of more than 1.5 million refugees to Lebanon. Consequently, this has added significantly to the country’s water stress. Access to a public network of water as a drinking source dropped from 57% to 35% between 2004 and 2009. Currently, UNICEF is working with the Lebanese government to improve access to both safe drinking water and waste services.
- Access to clean water is expensive. Nearly one in three Lebanese buys their drinking water from an alternative source because of the issues with official water supplies. These sources often come at a cost. Additionally, an average Beirut family can spend up to 15% of its monthly income on just water.
- The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has coordinated with Lebanese authorities to improve sanitary conditions and safe water access. UNHCR’s water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) efforts designs to help both refugees and Lebanese communities meet their basic needs and strengthen infrastructure. Its interventions helped sanitation in Lebanon. In fact, it improved sanitary conditions for 108,000 people and access to safe water for 27,000 people by the end of 2016. By June 2017, it had improved the sanitary conditions for 110,700 refugees and installed more than 147 km of pipeline in nine water supply systems.
- Lebanon’s air quality is unsafe. Recent data indicates that Lebanon’s annual mean concentration of PM 2.5 is three times the recommended maximum amount. Tourism and cement industries, food processing, mineral and chemical products, oil refining and vehicle emissions are all contributors to Lebanon’s poor air quality. Exposure to air pollution short term can lead to symptoms such as itchy throat, nose, eyes and chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, nausea and upper respiratory infections. Moreover, longterm effects include lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. Globally, one can attribute 5 million deaths each year to air pollution. Around 93% of the population in Beruit experiences exposure to high levels of air pollution. As of 2019, Lebanon is still looking for solutions for this.
- UNICEF helped more than 134,000 refugees learn about health and sanitation. About 18% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in tents or makeshift shelters. In addition, 73% of refugees rent units that are in poor condition, lacking kitchens, toilets and running water. The lack of these resources — especially for those living in makeshift settlements — is a sanitation risk. UNICEF reached out to more than 134,000 refugees living in Informal Settlements (ISs) to communicate “custom-tailored public health promotion messages” on topics relating to sanitation including safe water, hygiene, solid waste and communicable diseases.
- Rotary International has worked to improve hygiene in Lebanese schools. As of 2019, the Rotary wrote that it had installed a water filtration project to provide safe water to more than 1,000 schools. A second and third phase will work on advancing hygiene conversations between teachers and students and installing proper sewage systems and toilet seats in schools. It plans to continue its work by implementing water filtration in prisons.
- There has been an uptick in foodborne and waterborne diseases. The Ministry of Public Health’s epidemiological surveillance program has recorded increasing levels of water and foodborne illnesses. The cases rose from 1,072 in 2005 to 2,053 in 2018. This is likely because of people eating food that has come in contact with contaminated water. While the Rotary has worked on improving water conditions for schools and prisons, advocates are still attempting to bring awareness to the pollution issues in Lebanon.
- Foreign aid helps with Lebanon’s sanitation and access to water problems tremendously. In 2019, 98% of people had access to safely managed sanitation services. Meanwhile, about 93% of the population had access to safely managed drinking water services. More than 570,000 people gained access to improved drinking water through U.S. government assistance. The Lebanon Water Project, a five-year program with USAID, has funded $65 million in an attempt to create cleaner, more sustainable and reliable water sources in Lebanon. The project supports the Noth Lebanon Water Establishment with water infrastructure works and encourages the use of drip irrigation, which saves water.
While Lebanon still has a garbage crisis on its hands, something that the pandemic has made more difficult, organizations like USAID, WHO, UNICEF and UNHCR have helped improve sanitation in Lebanon outside of that crisis. As a result, more people have access to clean water.
– Sophie Grieser