300,000 people in Beirut continue to face a lack of access to critical safe water and sanitation services, UNICEF warned, more than three weeks after the huge explosion tore through Lebanon’s capital.
While public water infrastructure thankfully sustained only minor damage and remains mostly functional, the explosions compounded an already precarious situation in terms of access to safe water and sanitation in the greater Beirut area, with a significant number of water tanks and plumbing systems in buildings near the blast being damaged. An estimated 130 buildings in the affected area have been completely disconnected from the main water network and the water systems of more than 500 occupied buildings have been damaged.
“As COVID-19 cases continue to surge, it is more critical than ever to ensure that children and families whose lives were turned upside down by the explosion have access to safe water and sanitation,” said UNICEF Lebanon Representative Yukie Mokuo. “When communities don’t have access to this critical necessity, the risk of water-borne diseases, as well as COVID-19, can skyrocket,” she added.
With many families now lacking a working connection to water mains, the lack of safe drinking water and sanitation is of increasing concern. Additionally, many households in affected neighborhoods typically purchase water—either bottled or trucked—and face challenges accessing water services, especially with rising summer temperatures, with prices also likely to rise.
The situation is particularly critical for the estimated 300,000 people – including around 100,000 children, whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the blast.
In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, UNICEF began working with partners and the water authorities to assess the damage to critical water infrastructure and begin addressing critical needs. UNICEF and partners supported the Beirut Mount Lebanon BML Water Establishment in assessing damage to public water networks and providing support on repairs and reoperation where necessary.
UNICEF and partners have re-connected over 100 buildings to the public water system and installed 570 water tanks in damaged households out of an estimated need of 3,300 tanks to be replaced; UNICEF also provided water to first respondents, and has distributed more than 4,340 hygiene kits and 620 baby kits to affected families, and ensured water trucking to 20 households and three hubs of the Lebanese Red Cross.
This is especially critical in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as a key prevention method is regular handwashing with soap and safe water.
“One of our immediate priorities was ensuring that children and families affected, as well as critical frontline responders, had access to safe water,” said Yukie Mokuo. “Working with the relevant authorities and our partners we’ve been able to reach more than 6,650 children and their families, but there is so much more to do, and time is of the essence.”
UNICEF is also working to provide training and resources to equip thousands more young people across Lebanon with the skills they need to be part of the effort to rebuild their country, including training on repairs and maintenance on critical water and sanitation infrastructure.