The Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) has restored the Fekha water pumping station in the Bekaa Valley, which now runs on solar energy.
Photo: © SDC

Lebanon – more water, less tension

Since 2019, Lebanon has been experiencing a severe economic crisis while simultaneously hosting approximately 1.5 million refugees from Syria. Access to clean drinking water for all is not guaranteed, exacerbating tensions. In the Bekaa Valley, the SDC is running a project that utilises digitalisation and solar energy to improve water management.

The Bekaa Valley is situated between two mountain ranges, with an average altitude of 1,000 metres. Spanning 120 kilometres in length and 16 kilometres in width, it comprises 42 per cent of Lebanon's surface area. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that in 2023, the valley's population will be around 1.5 million, including one million Lebanese citizens. The remainder of the population consists primarily of Syrian refugees and approximately 8,000 Palestinians.

Lebanon's population growth in the wake of the Syrian crisis, combined with a severe economic crisis, has exacerbated tensions over access to water. The Bekaa Valley has seen an increase in attacks on water supply infrastructure. Illegal connections to the water network have increased, as have disputes between water users.

Digitalisation and real-time data

It is in this complex environment that the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) is conducting a project to promote equitable access to drinking water. In collaboration with the Bekaa Water Establishment, the SDC is working to improve water management and infrastructure. Since its inception in 2015, the project has successfully sought to alleviate tensions between communities and has achieved numerous significant accomplishments.

First, in the area of digitalisation, the 50 largest water stations have been connected to a centralised data centre. Thanks to the installation of sensors and 4G technology, this centre can analyse data such as water levels, flow and pressure for each station in real time. As its name suggests, the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system can also be used to set minimum and maximum water distribution levels and regulate pumps remotely. This system now covers most of the Bekaa Valley, serving approximately 700,000 people.

Solar energy as a solution to electricity shortages

The installation of solar panels on infrastructure is another key breakthrough achieved by this SDC project. In 2019, the SDC was at the forefront of utilising solar energy in water projects. A few months later, Lebanon plunged into an economic crisis that continues to this day. Since then, nation-wide power cuts have negatively impacted all aspects of daily life, including water access. "Much of the water supply is drawn from aquifers. Without electricity for generators, access to water ceases," explains Ramzi Ibrahim, a project engineer who works at the SDC office in Zahle, in the heart of the Bekaa Valley.

The engineer points out that installing photovoltaic panels at water stations has allowed some areas to extend their electricity supply from one to seven hours a day. “We targeted areas at risk of water-related conflicts, often due to the local topography. For example, in the town of Fekha, a waterfall benefited downstream residents with a continuous water supply, thanks to gravity. In contrast, those upstream expressed their frustration at the lack of electricity for pumping water. Fekha's scenario is not unique in Lebanon, and our photovoltaic solutions have addressed this issue, showcasing the lasting impact of clean energy," says Ibrahim.

Water at the heart of disputes and tensions

Preventing water-related conflict is another priority of the SDC's project. Amal Abou Hamdan is a specialist in this field and a member of the SDC's team in Zahle. She maintains that decisions should be grounded in a thorough analysis of potential tensions. "We carry out studies on the local context, needs, and decision-making power regarding water use, which vary from village to village. Sometimes, water is diverted for agricultural use at the expense of drinking water needs," Abou Hamdan explains.

In Lebanon, water supply can depend on political or religious affiliations. The Bekaa Valley is a religious mosaic, with large Shia and Sunni Muslim, Christian and Druze communities. "We organise public meetings with each community and individual meetings with their leaders. The main goal is to pinpoint potential sources of tension related to water use, understand each community's reality and clarify water consumption issues. We show them the consumption and flow data collected by the sensors installed at the water distribution points. They are aware that our recommendations are based on reliable data that is not politically, religiously or ethnically motivated," adds Abou Hamdan. All communities benefit from the SDC's interventions.

The results of the SDC's project in the Bekaa Valley have not escaped the attention of the Lebanese authorities. They are encouraging other donor countries and international organisations to emulate their example. The deployment of solar panels and the use of digital data for water management are being expanded to other Lebanese regions facing similar challenges.


Read the full article on the SDC website


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