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Impact of Syrian refugees on Lebanon’s water resources

    By Nadim Farajalla, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs By Noosheen Mogadam and Thomas Whitworth, Norwegian Refugee Council The World Bank estimated the Lebanese population in 2012 at 4.4 million, an increase of 25% from 3.5 million in 1992 (World Bank, 2012). Until 2012, the country had been experiencing a decline in its population growth rate from 4.84% in 2003 to 0.96% in 2011 and 2012 (World Bank 2013). This is illustrated in the table. Lebanon has a large number of Palestinian refugees with about 425,000 registered with UNRWA (AUB/ UNRWA, 2010). In 2011, the war in Syria erupted and a stream of refugees started flowing into Lebanon. The total number of Syrian refugees registered with the UNHCR reached 1.84 million, (UNHCR 2016), distributed throughout the country, (see Figure 1), which roughly represents a 30% increase in the resident population of Lebanon. This influx of people has had a severely negative impact on the environment in Lebanon, with increasing demand on water, higher generation of sewage that goes untreated and an increase in solid waste that is often disposed of in dumps. All of this has put water resources in Lebanon under severe pressure – high demand coupled with increasing pollution. Currently, Lebanon’s renewable water resources are estimated at around 926 m3/capita/ year (MOEW 2010). However, with an influx of the equivalent of more than a third of the country’s population, this number is expected to have dropped to below 700m3/capita/year. The increase in demand for water across the country ranges from as low as 0.1 million cubic metres per year, (MCM/yr), in some regions of the north and south Mount Lebanon, to a high of 7.42 MCM/yr in the Bekaa region (MOE/EU/UNDP, 2014). Water for this increased demand came mostly from the public water supply, with nearly 30% of refugees using this source. Wells were the second source for 24% of refugees (MOE/EU/UNDP, 2014). This increased demand resulted in an associated increase in sewage generation. The generated sewage is disposed of – untreated – into surface and subsurface water sources, common practice in most areas of Lebanon due to the lack of wastewater treatment facilities. The contamination resulting from this pollution renders more water sources unusable thereby depriving more people of an increasingly scarce resource. The international community has been trying to relieve this situation of growing demand and worsening pollution by helping improve the water sector infrastructure in several communities throughout Lebanon that are hosting Syrian refugees. The thrust of these efforts has been to improve water distribution networks and build wastewater treatment plants .This human tragedy is worsening, threatening the lives and livelihoods of refugees and their host communities through a resource that is supposed to be the source of life.     Figure 1. Distribution of Syran Refugees Source : Jägerskog, Swain et. al. 2016. Water, migration and how they are interlinked. Working paper 27. SIWI, Stockholm


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