Syrian refugees face water crisis in Lebanon

ACT member International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is working to protect the health and well-being of more than 4,300 vulnerable Syrian refugees with improved access to safe water at two informal settlements in Lebanon.

At El Rahmeh, a northern Lebanon settlement of 350 Syrian refugee families, IOCC drilled water wells and installed pumps, storage tanks, and pipelines to channel clean water to communal kitchens, showers and latrines constructed by IOCC.

The newly installed sewer line serves the sanitation needs of both the camp and the neighboring community of 1,500 Lebanese residents.   In Lebanon’s Bekaa valley, around 450 Syrian families living at the Bar Elias refugee settlement also have access to safe water from communal water storage tanks as well as a newly constructed sanitation system that carries waste away from their homes to large capacity septic tanks.

Each day, thousands of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon’s informal settlements face a growing risk of getting sick each time they take a drink of water.  Contracting an illness from poor quality water sources increases sharply during hot summer months when the heat creates an ideal breeding ground for waterborne diseases.   The threat is especially deadly to children, who make up half of the 1.2 million refugees living in Lebanon.

“Lebanon is stretched to its limits with the addition of more than one million Syrian refugees now living here,” stated Ruba Khoury, IOCC Country Representative for Lebanon.  “In the absence of official camps, refugees have settled in more than 1,000 host communities throughout the country.  The increase in refugee numbers has overburdened national water and wastewater systems.  Without access to safe water or sewage systems, the refugees are continuously confronted with diseases related to poor hygiene.  IOCC’s efforts to bring safe water and sanitation to the refugees in these two settlements has improved their quality of life, and eased some of the burden on the country’s infrastructure.”

Muhal, a 28-year-old refugee from the Syrian city of Qusayr, stands under a scorching summer sun as she fills several plastic water buckets from a cluster of large storage tanks.   She doesn’t mind the heat as long as she has access to clean water close to her tent. “It has improved our condition a great deal,” said the former nurse.  “Before we got the tanks, we had to walk several miles to collect water, and it wasn’t even safe to drink.”  “We desperately needed water,” added Abdu, 33, a Syrian refugee from Homs and father of four children ages 18 months to 12 years.  “Now water is still precious to us, but we know it is safe.”

A team of IOCC hygiene educators regularly monitor the water supply to make sure it is safe, and provide hygiene promotion sessions where refugee mothers and children learn how to prevent disease by keeping their surroundings clean and properly washing their hands, food, and laundry.

The new water and sanitation system installation, implemented with support from ACT Alliance partner, Norwegian Church Aid, is part of a larger ongoing effort by IOCC to improve living conditions for Syria’s refugee families.  Since 2012, IOCC has provided humanitarian relief to 3.1 million Syrian people displaced in their own country or living as refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Armenia, Greece, and Serbia.