DSS mission to Lebanon to assist UNICEF with water supply for Syrian refugees

Patrick Smeets (KWR) and Jeroen Helder are on a scoping mission to Lebanon to advise UNICEF on water supply in refugee camps. This is a short report of Patricks experiences.

It’s hot, really hot and I long for a cold shower. But here in a refugee camp near Zahle (east Lebanon) there is harldly any water available to wash yourself. A truck visits the camp twice a week to fill the water tanks and provide 35 litre of clean, safe water per person per day. The refugees in the camp complain about the limited amount of water (and the taste of chlorine). Often they use other, unsafe sources of water to supplement their water needs. E. coli bacteria are detected in over 50% of the water used for drinking, indicating fecal contamination and consequently a risk of getting ill. Water-trucking is an effective way to provide water in an emergency situation, but too expensive to maintain for many years. So why not connect to the communal water supply? Unfortunately the Lebanese water supply system is outdated and damaged, lacking the capacity to provide sufficient water even to the Lebanese population. Connecting refugee camps to the network could increase the tensions between the local population and the refugees. There are 1.5 million Syrian refugees on a population of 6 million Lebanese. The refugee camps are small, on average 60 people, and lie scattered across the region. We were asked to provide a solution for this complex water crisis. This week we are mostly learning: talking to UNICEF, the ministry, water establishments, NGO’s and refugees. And we are searching for data, which is scarce or unreliable. Thus the problems become more clear. Besides the technical issues, governance, social and financial issues make the problems and the solutions very complex. With our study we hope to open the door for some solutions that benefit both the local communities and the refugees. Finally we find some shelter from the sun under a tree in a camp. In the cool shade, with a cup of Lebanese coffee, we sit down and discuss some example projects: point of entry water treatment of local polluted sources, or a communal water point in combination with an upgrades supply system. We will study up-scaling these solutions to the regional level to determine cost-benefits. Not an easy task, but hopefully a step towards water supply improvement for all in Lebanon.


Discussions with the NGO’s and refugees in the cool shadow.

A hand dug well provides insufficient and unsafe water in the camps.

A water truck fills these water tanks twice a week.


A latrine and water tank in a refugee camp.