HC Mountain Press conference on water scarcity

06 Aug 2014

 

1.       Thank you Your Excellency for welcoming us today and highlighting the important issue of water scarcity in Lebanon.

 

2.       Today we are announcing a contribution to dealing with short-term consequences for people in Akkar, in the Bekaa and elsewhere, of this water scarcity. To that end, I am pleased that OCHA – the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs- has been able to allocate US$4.5 million to provide drinking water to over a quarter of a million Lebanese, refugees from Syria, and Palestinians.

 

3.       Humanitarian agencies have worked hand in hand with water authorities, with the means at our disposal. Our colleagues, all of whom are experience water experts, conducted assessments to understand the scope of the problem. Overall 132 villages were identified through the Water Establishments and UN/NGO process as at high risk of water scarcity.  Including large parts of Akkar and northern Tripoli Governorate, the Bekka valley and parts of South Lebanon. In Tripoli Governorate for example, they identified 34 villages at risk where 35,000 refugees and 60,000 Lebanese live. The WASH and Health Sectors are developing plans and trainings for preparedness and response in the case of Acute Watery Diarrhea outbreaks which are an increased risk due to water scarcity.

 

4.       We used these assessments to identify short-term emergency interventions that would mitigate the negative effects of water scarcity in dense community, especially where the influx of refugees from Syria has impacted on the public delivery systems. We identified 15 emergency projects which will benefit over 255,000 people (Lebanese, Syrian refugees, PRS, PRL, Lebanese returnees).

 

5.       These programmes are carried out after consultation with the Ministry of Energy and Water, by local and international NGOs, in close cooperation with UNICEF and UNHCR who have a particular expertise in that domain. We are pleased to be able to do this which provides modest help to these communities.

6.       The situation is that precipitation and surface flow is 50% of average year. Available groundwater is 80% of average year. What this means is that there is less water for personal consumption and agricultural use and at the same time, many more people needing water.  Agricultural use of water is the largest at approximately 60% or more – through largely inefficient open canals – this demand peaks in the dry season as does domestic water demand.

7.       It affects everyone; Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians. Water or lack thereof does not discriminate against a particular group. All of us have to turn off the tap, be more conservative in our water consumption.

 

8.       It is paradoxical to find ourselves facing shortages of water and thinking creatively to ensure all people in Lebanon have access to safe and drinking water, while years ago, Lebanon had water in surplus and never imagined it could run short. These are the effects of climate change! But the problem is real and could have long term effects it it is not tacked well, early and jointly.

 

9.       Water conservation and protection of water resources are investments to make for future generations. There is a need for sustainable investment in the water infrastructure of Lebanon. Development actors such as FAO and UNDP are committed to supporting efforts by the Minister of Energy and Water in finding solutions to this problem. The Ministry’s plans for saving water are an important step in that direction. I would like to thank the Ministry of Energy and Water for providing leadership and following this issue closely.

 

10.   The launch of a public campaign to raise awareness is particularly timely and welcome. I watched the video and found the messages very powerful. I hope the young generation will indeed convince their parents to save water.

 

11.   What we do collectively this year will help better plan for next year. The UN is ready to continue play its role, together with the Ministry of Energy and Water and local water authorities.